SALEM — A Libyan “freedom fighter” brought to Salem’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital after he was shot during the effort to overthrow former dictator Moammar Gadhafi admitted yesterday to throwing an electric stapler at a nurse during a tirade last month.
But because Omar Altwati, 20, is scheduled to leave the United States tomorrow, he will face no punishment, only a guilty finding that could prevent him from ever returning to this country.
Altwati’s lawyer, James Coviello, yesterday blamed a combination of frustration over a delay in transportation back from a Boston hospital and the fact that Altwati was fasting for Ramadan.
Altwati was one of 22 Libyan rebels who came to the United States to be treated at the former Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital for injuries that could not be properly treated in their homeland because of a lack of medical technology.
Coviello said Altwati, who was still using crutches yesterday in court, had undergone surgery to remove three bullets that had remained in his body.
He was one of the last two patients being treated at the facility when, on the evening of July 25, he showed up at Spaulding, apparently irate.
Prosecutor Jane Prince said Altwati and a second man were yelling “America, America,” as they strode past a secretary on the first floor. Altwati ripped a hand sanitizer dispenser from a wall, then got onto an elevator, where, police say, he also bent a handicapped railing.
On the fourth floor, Altwati demanded to see his doctor, who was not there. Altwati, the prosecutor said, picked up an electric stapler, waved it toward one nurse as if he intended to throw it at her, then suddenly threw it at a second nurse.
The stapler landed on her chest. Though the nurse was not injured, similar electric staplers, which are often weighted to prevent them from moving on a desk, can weigh up to 5 or 6 pounds.
And, noted Judge Ellen Flatley after reading a victim impact statement from the nurse, Altwati had apparently been “a difficult patient” who “has obviously got the staff very afraid of him.”
The contents of the nurse’s statement were not disclosed in court.
But Prince said the nurse was primarily concerned that Altwati be ordered to stay away from her in the future, as well as dealing with his anger management issues.
Coviello said his client had been at a doctor’s appointment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston earlier in the day, but then had to wait hours for a van ride back to the North Shore.
The prosecutor had hoped for a year of probation, with anger management. Coviello objected, suggesting that being placed on probation could prevent him from returning to Libya.
While Flatley was skeptical of the defense lawyer’s concern (referring to the recent case of a Saudi prince who left the country after serving a sentence, despite being put on probation), she ultimately agreed to go along with Coviello’s request to simply place on file a guilty finding on charges of assault and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.
The conviction will likely prevent Altwati from legally re-entering the United States, Coviello said, showing the judge travel documents.
The judge also warned Altwati to have no contact with the nurse or any of the other witnesses.
Two other charges of malicious destruction of property were dismissed by the prosecutor.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.