Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
How a driver who struck a bicyclist got away with murder
Farrukh Mushtaq will serve no jail time for the hit and run death of Kate Slattery
“If this case happened anywhere else in the State of California or the Bay Area, for that matter, you likely would be midterm on a prison sentence.”
— Giles Feinberg, Victim Services, to defendant Farrukh Mushtaq
20001(c). Remember that section from the California Vehicle Code as it plays a major part in this story. It says a person who flees the scene of a hit and run where they injure or kill another person must serve an additional five years consecutively (not concurrently) on top of any sentence imposed, and only the district attorney — not the judge, not the public defender — can strike it.
On June 22, 2016, at around 8:30 p.m., a man in a BMW X3 SUV ran a red light near the South and Market intersection of Seventh and Howard streets, fatally striking 26-year-old bicyclist Katherine Slattery and fleeing the scene. The driver, Farrukh Mushtaq, 32, was apprehended by police a few blocks away. The next day Mushtaq pleaded not guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter, misdemeanor hit and run, and felony hit and run (that 20001(c) I told you to remember).
Defense attorney Chris Morales, representing Mushtaq, wanted mental health diversion. On Sept. 4, 2019, before Judge Harry M. Dorfman, Morales made his case. “So the Court had a chance to review three doctors' reports. All three doctors confirmed that my client was insane at the time — criminally insane at the time of the accident. All three doctors reviewed the police reports, reviewed the medical and hospital reports. My client was locked up at the psych ward for 30 days after the accident. He didn't move into the jail until about 30 days after he was arrested because he was not stable. It's clear that he was in a psychotic episode at the time of the accident, at the time that he went through a red light and was speeding … So it's clear at the time of the accident that he was having a psychotic episode because the DMV has given him back his driver's license.”
Dorfman wasn’t buying it. “The fact that the DMV reinstated his driving privilege nine months ago means they went through their own process and they decided to reinstate his driving privilege. That's what it means.”
“Dr. Howard, page 9,” Morales continued. “‘It is further my opinion that Mr. Mushtaq's delusions at the time impaired his ability to understand the quality of his actions. Mr. Mushtaq was experiencing delusions that appear akin to the deific decree, wherein an individual believes that they have been commanded by God to do something.’"
After going back and forth with Morales, Judge Dofman turned to District Attorney Tom Ostly and asked, “Mr. Ostly, what do you think I should do today?”
Ostly replied, “I think you should deny the petition … The thing that's missing from all of the psych reports is what Mr. Mushtaq was saying at the time of the incident. We have his cell phone. We have his text messages. They were part of the People's opposition.”
The night before the incident, Mushtaq and another man went to the Marina district, where they used cocaine and picked up prostitutes. They talked about partying more together on Thursday. On Wednesday, Mushtaq met for a review with human resources and an attorney for his employer, RockYou, to discuss how he could improve his work performance. Mushtaq told them he should “get a raise and a better position.”
At 5 p.m. Mushtaq left work and texted a friend that he was going to the Gold Club, a strip joint on Howard Street. Turns out, he had been at the club during his lunch break, where his wife sent him an email saying she knew he was transferring $1,300 to the Gold Club. At the same time, Mushtaq was having multiple text conversations with individuals about going to Vegas and with a friend about job hunting. According to the Gold Club, when Mushtaq returned in the evening he tried to disable a light in one of the rooms and was asked to leave. He then tried to re-enter the club multiple times, even changing his shirt. When he was refused, he pulled up in his BMW and asked if they had valet service, pretending to arrive for the first time. “This isn’t signs of being in a mental health crisis,” Ostly told the Court. “It’s just a sign of not wanting to follow the rules — not at the strip club, not at his employer, not general penal codes regarding drug use and prostitution.”
Meanwhile, Mushtaq was communicating with his wife, who said, “Your daughter has the statue of the groom from our wedding cake and she’s walking around with it while you’re spending money at the strip club.” As Mushtaq was leaving, his wife showed up at the Gold Club to confront him, at which point he took off down Howard Street, going over 80 miles an hour and running the red light at 7th Street. After changing lanes abruptly to avoid a car stopped in lane one, Mushtaq collided with Slattery on her bike — but he didn’t stop. At 9th Street he got out of his car, and it rolled back into another vehicle. He was on his cell phone but never called 911. Good Samaritans kept him there until police arrived.
Dorfman denied the mental health diversion, stating he wasn’t persuaded there was a connection between the “mental health issue at the time of the incident” leading to the death of Slattery. “Secondly, I am concerned about public safety given the driving conduct here. Running a light, killing an innocent victim, a total stranger to him,” Dorfman said.
After George Gascon stepped down as District Attorney in 2019 and Chesa Boudin took over in 2020, he immediately fired seven of the best prosecutors in the office, including Ostly. Fortunately, Ostly left a trail of Farrukh Mushtaq’s bad behavior leading up to the death of Kate Slattery. Not only did Mushtaq try to evade responsibility by using an absurd defense (“God was driving!”), he also came across as a selfish cad who abandoned his wife and daughter to snort cocaine, pick up hookers, and spend thousands of dollars at a strip club. He was, in fact, the polar opposite of his victim, Kate Slattery, who by all accounts was an amazing young woman. Slattery was a mechanical engineer, and she wanted to show young girls that they, too, could grow up to be engineers. At the time of her death, she was writing a book entitled Fly with Maya, about a curious child who travels around the world in a hot air balloon, meeting engineers along her journey who tell her about their jobs and help her understand how her balloon works. After Slattery’s death, her family finished the book.
Ironically, it would be a woman with the same name, Assistant District Attorney Maia Maszara, who would help set Slattery’s killer free.
On June 17, 2021 before Judge Braden C. Woods, the District Attorney’s office agreed to a plea deal. “All right. Mr. Morales,” Woods said to Mushtaq’s attorney, “at this time does Mr. Mushtaq withdraw his not guilty by reason of insanity plea and enter pleas of not guilty to all the counts in the Information?” Morales responded, “That is correct.” Woods then turned to Maszara and asked if there was a motion to the balance of the Information. “Yes. Based on the negotiated disposition the People move to dismiss the remaining counts,” Maszara said.
What happened to 20001(c)? When legislators came up with the law they didn’t think they had to worry about prosecutors striking it, so they wrote it specifically to ban judges from doing so. Boudin, a career public defender, took advantage of this loophole and struck the mandatory five-year consecutive sentence from Mushtaq’s charges.
Back before Judge Woods on July 28, Slattery’s father John read a heartfelt letter about his daughter, after which both Maszara and Morales formerly agreed to the plea deal. Then Giles Feinberg, who had been the victim advocate for the full five years of the case, asked to speak on the record, and he addressed Mushtaq directly: “If this case happened anywhere else in the State of California, or the Bay Area for that matter, you likely would be midterm on a prison sentence. Today, you are given a gift. You are being given the gift of freedom and of life of which you have taken from Kate Slattery on June 22nd, 2016, and from her family. They will never truly be free from the catastrophic loss you've caused.”
Woods asked if Maszara and Morales had anything else to say. Neither of them did. Then Woods turned to Mushtaq and read the terms of his release. “Imposition of sentence will be suspended. You're placed on probation, formal probation, to the Adult Probation Department for a period of three years under the following terms and conditions. You must serve 16 days in the county jail with credit for 16 days already served. You are Penal Code Section 4019 eligible, which means you will receive an additional 16 days of custody credit if you come back into custody.”
And so a man who recklessly killed a young woman riding her bike won’t spend a single day in jail for it. That’s why when Chesa Boudin says he “charges people,” it doesn’t mean anything, because he often pleads cases for much less — especially when he thinks no one is watching. Remember, Boudin charged Troy McAlister with multiple counts, including 20001(c), for the hit and run deaths of Elizabeth Platt and Hanako Abe last New Year’s Eve. Only the District Attorney’s Office can strike the 20001(c). That’s what happened in Mushtaq’s case, and it could easily happen in McAlister’s — unless we’re all watching very carefully.
Troy McAlister’s next court date is September 29, 2021, at 9 a.m. in Dept. M11.