BURLINGTON, VT (The VT Digger) – A man who allegedly used a machete to attack a 73-year-old Meals on Wheels volunteer pleaded not guilty to an attempted murder charge.
Appearing in Chittenden Superior Court via video Monday, Abukar Ibrahim, 32, watched as his attorney entered not guilty pleas on Ibrahim’s behalf to charges of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of unlawful mischief and violating conditions of release.
Judge David Fenster ordered Ibrahim to undergo a sanity and competency evaluation and to be held without bail at the Northwest State Correctional Facility. Ibrahim will next appear in court in early February. The court also granted him an interpreter who speaks Maay Maay, a language used mostly in Somalia; however, no interpreter was evident in the courtroom Monday.
Shelburne police responded Friday to calls of a man breaking car windows at the Harbor Place motel. Police said they found the Meals on Wheels volunteer with severe leg wounds and Ibrahim barricaded in a room, taunting police. It took officers more than two hours to get Ibrahim to come out, according to authorities.
The volunteer was treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center and released.
Ibrahim’s attorney, Bryan Dodge, declined to answer questions from reporters at Monday’s arraignment and said he does not know when he will comment on the case. Two men who said they knew Ibrahim also showed up at the courthouse looking for Dodge, but they declined to answer questions.
Ibrahim started staying at Harbor Place only recently, said Chris Donnelly, a spokesman for the Champlain Housing Trust, which owns and runs the property. The trust bought the motel in 2013 and uses it for emergency housing.
“It’s a place that people are at to either escape a violent situation at home, or are out on the streets,” Donnelly said.
James Scott said he has been living at Harbor Place since December. Scott was leaving the motel office Friday and came across the victim, who had blood running down her leg and tracking on the floor, he said.
“I just happened to be coming out of the office and helped her in. She looked fine but scared, wicked scared,” Scott said.
Scott said the attack made him feel unsafe, and he raised questions about who is allowed to live in the motel.
“I sort of do feel unsafe. They let just about anyone in here without putting a background check on them,” he said.
Donnelly said the trust has turned away people who are on the sex offender registry and people who staff or police believe might be a danger to others. But as a practice residents aren’t subject to background checks, he said.
“These are people who are receiving a public benefit, and so there really has to be a cause to deny them that public benefit, otherwise it’s discriminatory,” he said. “Where do you draw the line for what pops up on the background check?”
Many people are referred to Harbor Place through state agencies like the Department for Children and Families, Donnelly said. There has been a recent influx due to the cold snap that brought several days of below-zero weather.
“It’s hard to have any 100 percent foolproof system in place,” he said. “This is just an awful, awful thing that happened.”