Woman who lifted Arizona mosque items gets probation
PHOENIX — A woman captured on video making derogatory comments about Muslims as she and a friend lifted Qurans and other items from an Arizona mosque was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation for an aggravated criminal damage conviction.
Tahnee Savanna Gonzales was ordered to complete 225 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to the mosque where she, an adult friend and Gonzales' three children took pamphlets, fliers and other items from a fenced-in courtyard behind the place of worship.
Gonzales, who faces a 30-day deferred jail sentence if she does not satisfactorily complete her probation, posted a social-media video of the encounter — including footage of her starting a shouting match with a Muslim man after he walked out of the mosque and tried to pet her dog.
"Muslims are not all terrorists any more than Christians are all (Oklahoma City bomber) Timothy McVeigh," Superior Court Judge Mark Brain told Gonzales before he handed down the sentence.
Prosecutor Neha Bhatia sought three years of probation and a 90-day deferred jail sentence, saying Gonzales brought her children along with her as she desecrated the mosque.
Gonzales apologized and said she now views the crime as a moral failing on her part and has reflected on how the encounter negatively affected her children.
"I am sorry for my decision to attack one of the most sacred of all liberties," she said, referring to the freedom of religion.
Marc Victor, an attorney representing Gonzales, said his client now sees that her earlier generalized beliefs about Muslims were a mistake and noted that she has since faced public humiliation for her behavior at the mosque, which aired on TV in Phoenix.
"Her crime is that she was horribly uneducated," Victor said.
Gonzales' friend, Elizabeth Ann Dauenhauer, previously pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal damage stemming from the encounter and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 200 hours of community service. Dauenhauer also expressed remorse when she was sentenced.
The two women had been known for making anti-Muslim statements at political events in metro Phoenix. When they went to the mosque in the suburb of Tempe, they walked past a no-trespassing sign posted on a gate to the courtyard, where only members of the mosque were allowed.
It was unclear which of the two women walked away with the Qurans.
Gonzales, who does most of the talking during the 23-minute video, complains in the footage about Sharia law and said Muslims engage in bestiality and are destroying America.
When she sees a no-guns sign on a gate on mosque property, Gonzales said, "Ahhh, but they carry around AKs and kill people all the time."
Near the end of the video, the two women, children and their dogs stood in the parking lot as a man exited the mosque.
One of the dogs trotted over to the man, who, in response to a question from Gonzales, later identified himself as a practicing Muslim.
"Stay away from our dogs, please. Don't eat them," Gonzales told the man, prompting a guffaw from Dauenhauer.
"Really?" the man responded, later explaining that he was trying to be peaceful and did not understand what Gonzales was talking about.
The encounter turned into a shouting match with Gonzales yelling insults at the man.
Before Gonzales pleaded guilty to the aggravated criminal damage in April, her lawyers contended her comments were protected by the First Amendment.
They also said the mosque was open to the public and allowed people to take the kind of material that Gonzales and Dauenhauer walked away with.
As part of her plea deal, other charges against Gonzales were dismissed.
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