COURTHOUSE — Raj Islam resigned as chairperson of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission on Friday, March 1, though he said he will continue to serve as a member.
The criminal charges that led to his resignation as chairperson appeared to be resolved during a hearing in Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court before Substitute Judge Anthony Nicolo on Tuesday, March 5.
Islam, also a captain with the city emergency medical services department, pleaded not guilty to a one of three charges he faced — misdemeanor assault on a family member — and Nicolo agreed to defer a finding in that matter for two years. That means the charge could be dropped if Islam meets conditions and remains on good behavior.
“Assuming there are no other issues, he will not be convicted of anything in connection to this incident,” said John Fletcher, an attorney representing Islam, during a telephone interview on Wednesday, March 6.
Prosecutors elected not to pursue two other accusations against Islam, a felony charge of attempted malicious wounding and a misdemeanor charge of assault on a family member. Those decisions were not related to any agreement with Islam, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ashley Coleman said during the hearing.
Regarding the misdemeanor, a court record reviewed by The Independent News shows a family member who is a minor accused Islam of assault in November. However, Coleman said that witness is not cooperating with prosecutors.
Islam also had been accused of attempted malicious wounding because his wife, with whom he is involved in a divorce proceeding, said he tried to run her over with a car after an argument escalated. The Virginian-Pilot first reported the allegation in November. Coleman said that charge is not being prosecuted because there is not enough evidence.
Islam did not discuss the court proceeding, but he said his decision to resign as chairperson of the commission was to avoid impeding its work.
“People were getting bogged down with issues in my personal life, rather than the work of the commission,” Islam said.
He said he faced media coverage that presumed his guilt in the case, and he said he did not want to be a distraction, though he wants to continue working with the commission as “a member in good standing.”
“It’s for the betterment of the commission,” he said of stepping away from his leadership role.
Islam said he was proud of his time leading the commission, including efforts to help it engage the public on social media and use technology to better enable meetings.
He also advocated for greater professional development opportunities for members, creation of a bullying prevention committee and collaborated with other groups, such as a roundtable group that tackled the issue of the Confederate monument at the municipal center and on a joint task force about the Oceanfront and College Beach Weekend.
In a letter to members of the commission and other city leaders, Islam on Friday, March 1, wrote:
“It is my sincere hope that removing myself as chair will allow the commission to move forward with our mission to serve the citizens of Virginia Beach. I will remain a member of the Human Rights Commission, but will not take an active leadership role at this time.”
Sylvia Nery-Strickland, who had been serving as vice chairperson and previously served as its chairperson, again will lead the commission as chairperson.
“He resigned effective March 1, but he remains a member of the commission,” Nery-Strickland said of Islam.
Vice Mayor Jim Wood, who put forward Islam’s name as a member of the commission, on Tuesday, March 5, said he had no issue with Islam remaining as a member of the commission now that the court matter is resolved.
“I think he brings value to the commission, a perspective you don’t get otherwise,” Wood said.
Ed. — This story was updated on Wednesday, March 6, with comments from attorney John Fletcher and Vice Mayor Jim Wood.
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