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Two attacked, wounded in downtown Brattleboro

One suspect arraigned in Elliot Street altercation on four counts, including hate-crime charge; second suspect still at large

Additional reporting by Jeff Potter.

BRATTLEBORO—A woman who allegedly attacked two people on Elliot Street on July 31 appeared in Windham County Superior Court on Monday.

Mariam J. Belarj, 20, of Medford, N.Y., was arraigned on two felonies — including assault — and two misdemeanors.

Bail was set at $2,500 for Belarj, who has also been charged under the state statute for hate-motivated crimes in connection with her interaction with Shela Linton, a woman of color and prominent advocate for issues of social justice.

The hate-motivated disorderly conduct count alleges that Belarj “engaged in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior” and her conduct “is maliciously motivated by the victim’s perceived race.”

Police are seeking a second perpetrator, described in court documents as Belarj’s boyfriend. He is described as at least 6 feet tall with a blond ponytail.

Two attacks on Elliot Street

According to court documents, Belarj and an unnamed male suspect assaulted Brandon Porter and Shela Linton in two separate attacks in front of the Indo-American Grocery on Elliot Street.

Brattleboro police responded to the scene shortly after 9 p.m., with Officer Timmie Vinton noting that Elliot Street was “busy with cars and people.”

According to Vinton’s affidavit, Porter was purchasing alcohol from the grocery when a male suspect started punching and kicking him in the face, then pushed him outside and knocked him to the ground.

Vinton writes that at this point, Belarj — described in the affidavit as the girlfriend of the male suspect — hit Porter with a bottle of beer multiple times eventually smashing the bottle. While the male suspect repeatedly kicked Porter in the face, Belarj allegedly stole the victim’s two cans of malt liquor.

The officer described lacerations on Porter’s nose, back, arm, and shoulder blade and also noted “two golf-ball sized lumps” on Porter’s head. According to Vinton, Porter received treatment for his injuries at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Next, the suspects turned their attention toward Linton, who stopped her car, police say, because the male suspect, Belarj, and Porter were all in the road. Linton exited her car to pick up broken glass in the road with a handkerchief.

Linton told the officers that the male suspect demanded the handkerchief. Police say that when Linton turned to hand him the cloth, Belarj yelled, “You fucking nigger, I’ll fucking fight you, I’ll fucking kill you! I’ll fucking kill you!”

The male suspect then punched Linton repeatedly, Vinton wrote.

According to the affidavit, the two suspects then fled. A Brattleboro police officer later arrested Belarj. When first apprehended, Belarj told police she “only hit [Porter] a little bit,” the court documents say. She later denied hitting Porter during a taped police interview, the affidavit states.

As of the filing of the court documents, Belarj has refused to name the male suspect or give police his location, and police have not subsequently identified the second assailant.

In an twist of coincidence, Belarj’s name also graced a press release from the Vermont State Police on July 30.

According to the state police, Belarj flipped the SUV she was driving — a gray 2002 Mercury Mountaineer — on West Windham Road in Windham attempting to avoid a deer.

“When Belarj attempted to maneuver around the deer, her vehicle left the roadway, turned on its side, and then came to rest in an upright position,” according to the VSP’s press release. “Belarj did not suffer any injuries as a result of the crash.”

According to the press release, Belarj received a written warning for driving too fast for road conditions.

Social media erupts

On Aug. 1, social media erupted at the news of the attack on Linton, who identified herself as the victim and posted a photo of a man with blond hair to her Facebook page, stating that he was the one who assaulted her and asking people to help with information.

“I’m doing O.K., but do need support in my life right now,” Linton wrote, extending thanks to an unknown driver who interrupted the assault.

“Also, if anyone knows the man who saved me from my face being smashed in [...] give him a high five, [a] thank you, and lots of love,” she added.

Linton also shared a Facebook username linked to the pseudonymous identity “Higher Power,” identified on the social networking site as a person who is in a relationship with Belarj.

That profile was deleted on Tuesday.

The Commons discovered a second Facebook profile, which the paper has determined to belong to the same individual as the person Linton identified as her assailant. The identity of the user has not been authenticated but the person using the account referenced the altercation, the recent accident, and the logistics of bail for Belarj.

The user left a comment in response to a friend urging him to turn himself in to police. The post and subsequent replies were publicly visible briefly on Monday afternoon.

“The dude was talking to my girl being disrespectful,” he wrote. He also disputed parts of the official account, including the robbery and the bottle, and said it had “nothing to do with race.”

“I never wanted this to happen,” he wrote to the friend. “I’m really, really sorry.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #368 (Wednesday, August 3, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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