By HOWARD ALTMAN
A stun gun apparently was used on a woman at a New Tampa Walmart on New Year’s Day, and police are investigating whether she was the victim of a hate crime.
The victim, a Muslim who was wearing a traditional ethnic dress known as a salwar, told investigators she was hit by a stun gun fired by another shopper shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday at the store at 19910 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
A video of the incident does not show the victim being hit by the stun gun, said McElroy. But she did have marks “consistent” with being hit by a stun gun, McElroy said.
“She has two marks on her back,” McElroy said. “We have no reason to doubt what she is saying.”
The video shows the suspect and another woman following the victim through the store as if she were being targeted, McElroy said. The video does not show an exchange between the women, the stun gun incident or the victim being hit, but that may have occurred off-camera, said McElroy.
Before police can determine if the incident rises to the level of a hate crime, they must first find the suspect, described as a heavy-set white female, about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and between ages 30 and 49, said McElroy.
Investigators, she said, will have to determine if the offense “was based on prejudice against victim’s race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”
McElroy said the victim’s daughters raised the issue of whether she was being targeted because of her religion.
Another possibility, said McElroy, is that the victim may have been targeted because of the big purse she had in her shopping cart.
Efforts to reach the victim by phone were not immediately successful.
Hassan Shibly, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said, “If indeed this was a hate crime it is a clear sign that anti-Muslim rhetoric is not cost free and may unfortunately lead to senseless attacks against law abiding American Muslims.”
Shibly said via email that regardless of the motive, he hopes the suspect is caught.