Judge keeps doctor jailed in mutilation case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Northville doctor charged with mutilating the genitalia of 7-year-old girls will stay behind bars pending trial to prevent her from fleeing the country, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville is a flight risk because she is facing charges that could send her to federal prison for the rest of her life and because she has ties overseas, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said.

Nagarwala, a U.S. citizen and mother of four children with family in India and Africa, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 10 with five others in the nation’s first federal case involving female genital mutilation.

“She was born here, that would be a lot to leave but absolutely there is incentive to leave because the penalty is so great,” Friedman said.

The bond hearing came one day after The Detroit News reported that a grand jury investigation has spread to at least three more states as federal agents have identified new targets.

Friedman prodded federal prosecutors Wednesday to quickly determine whether anyone else will be charged.

“I want to move this case as quickly as we can,” Friedman said.

Friedman said he would reconsider releasing Nagarwala if defense lawyers can devise a plan that would prevent the doctor from fleeing the country. Nagarwala’s lawyer Shannon Smith said she will try to develop a plan.

“We are saddened by the result from today but hope ... the court may change its mind,” Smith told reporters.

Prosecutors want Nagarwala, who is being held at the Huron County Jail, locked up to prevent her from operating on any other girls and to keep her from obstructing justice by contacting witnesses and victims.

“Her conduct demonstrates there is no way for the court or pretrial services to ensure she will stop committing crimes and not cut another girl,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward told the judge. “For 12 years, the defendant ... cut the genitals of countless 7-year-old girls.”

The bond decision is the latest development in a case that alleges six people participated in a conspiracy to cut prepubescent girls as part of a religious procedure practiced by a small sect of Shia Muslims from India, the Dawoodi Bohra. Nagarwala is accused of mutilating girls’ genitalia at the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia, owned by Dr. Fakhruddin Attar.

Nagarwala, 44, is the only person charged in the case being held without bond; Attar and his wife, Dr. Farida Attar, were released last month.

More than 20 members of the local Dawoodi Bohra community filled Friedman’s courtroom in a brightly colored show of support. Women wore the Dawoodi Bohra traditional cultural dress, a rida, in a range of colors including teal, purple, pink and gold while men, mostly dressed in white, wore traditional caps fringed in gold.

“The community Dr. Nagarwala is from is supporting her. Dr. Nagarwala intends to fight this case, which is a religious practice that is sacred to her and to her entire community and her entire religion,” Smith said. “This case will have an impact on the community throughout the world.”

The hearing also came one day after Nagarwala’s lawyer attacked the government’s case in a court filing while arguing the doctor should be released on bond. Nagarwala has been held without bond since April.

Nagarwala did not perform female genital mutilation, Smith said. Instead, Nagarwala merely removed mucous membrane from the girls’ genitalia during a benign religious procedure, placed the material on gauze pads and gave it to their families for burial.

The government has overreached by estimating that Nagarwala performed female genital mutilation on at least 100 girls, Smith wrote in the filing. Medical evidence does not support the claim that girls were mutilated, the lawyer added.

The most recent indictment in the case alleges six girls were mutilated — including four from Michigan.

Some members of the Dawoodi Bohra community who have spoken against the procedure said genital mutilation is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to court records. Female genital mutilation has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 1996.

The procedure is most common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, along with migrants from those regions, says the World Health Organization.

There are four major types of female genital mutilation, including a partial or total removal of the clitoris.

Federal prosecutors are fighting the request for bond but the government’s argument is contained in a sealed federal court filing.

Smith attacked portions of the sealed filing, including the government’s argument that female genital mutilation can lead to short-term complications, including pain, risk of bleeding and hemorrhage, shock, infection, sepsis and even death.

Smith faulted prosecutors for failing to turn over a “shred of medical evidence,” even though some medical records have been provided in related attempts by state officials to terminate the rights of parents charged in the federal case.

Prosecutors allege that two girls’ clitorises were completely removed but the evidence is lacking for at least one girl, Smith said.

The case emerged in April after Nagarwala was arrested at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and accused of performing the illegal surgery on two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota who were brought to Metro Detroit by relatives.

Nagarwala was arrested while trying to fly to Kenya. She had previously scheduled a round-trip flight to Kenya, where two daughters attend school.

The trip does not indicate Nagarwala is a flight risk, Smith said. The doctor told federal officials about the trip beforehand and she planned to return to Michigan and rejoin her husband and two other children, her lawyer wrote.

“... if she intended to flee the country, it is unthinkable that she would inform law enforcement the details of her supposed ‘escape from justice,’ ” Smith wrote.

Nagarwala should be released on bond under the same conditions as the Attars, Smith argued. The Attars were placed on house arrest, and barred from using computers and accessing the internet. They also cannot have any contact with alleged victims or witnesses.

Nagarwala could help translate hours of wiretapped phone calls, emails, texts, voicemails and other records that are in a foreign language if she is released on bond, the lawyer wrote.

“This case is important to not only Dr. Nagarwala, but also to the Dawoodi Bohra community as a whole,” Smith wrote. “Dr. Nagarwala intends to vigorously defend this case and show she has been wrongfully accused.”


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