BARBOURSVILLE — A man police said was falsely accused of attempting to abduct a 5-year-old girl in the Huntington Mall on Monday night said he never interacted with the woman who made the claims and wouldn’t recognize her or her daughter if he saw them.
Meanwhile, prosecutors were discussing whether the woman will face any charges for the false claim that police said was damaging to the man’s reputation and upsetting to the community.
A felony charge of attempted abduction by a person was dropped against Mohamed Fathy Hussein Zayan, 54, of Alexandria, Egypt, on Thursday.
Zayan was arrested by Barboursville police after a woman, identified in a criminal complaint as Santana Renee Adams, accused him of pulling her 5-year-old daughter’s hair and dragging the child away until Adams pulled a gun on him. Adams later recanted her story, saying the incident likely was a misunderstanding.
Barboursville Police Detective Greg Lucas said he did not know Adams’ reason for making up the accusation, but believes false rumors on social media about attempted child abductions may have contributed.
“So far it has been entirely baseless. Nobody has made a police report and nobody has called 911 about these issues, but it’s out there,” Lucas said. “I can’t say that she had any kind of agenda or what her agenda was, but it still was very, very bad to hurt this man and upset our entire community like it did.”
Zayan and his attorney, Michelle Protzman, met Thursday afternoon at the Barboursville Police Department with police officers who had arrested him, and police returned a passport they had confiscated as a condition of Zayan’s release on bail from the Western Regional Jail prior to the charge being dropped.
Zayan greeted Lucas with a handshake and a hug, thanking him for pursuing the truth and proving his innocence. He also thanked Protzman for helping him be exonerated.
Protzman said she’s asked that the charge be expunged from Zayan’s record so he doesn’t face any issues entering and exiting the country. Zayan is an engineer contracted to perform work in West Virginia.
Protzman said it is clear from the mall’s security cameras that Adams’ accusation against Zayan was not as she described to police. There is no footage showing Zayan, Adams or her children near each other while inside a clothing store where the incident was supposed to have taken place, she said.
“She actually leaves very unaffected before (Zayan) leaves the store,” Protzman said. “(She’s) just walking out with her kids as if nothing ever happened. She is just kind of moseying outside of the store.”
Zayan, speaking to reporters, said he had never seen Adams and would not be able to point out her or her daughter if they were standing in front of him.
“I haven’t seen her. I don’t know her,” he said.
Police said Adams had a handgun in her pocket when officers arrived at the mall to gather information about the alleged incident. It is also visible in her pocket while she exited the store inside the mall, Lucas said.
The Herald-Dispatch unsuccessfully tried to reach Adams by phone this week, but WCHS-TV reported that she gave a statement to the station.
“I’m thankful I was prepared to protect my daughter regarding a situation that could have gone worse,” Adams said, according to WCHS-TV.
Police do not believe any incident that Adams described took place. Lucas said the matter has been handed over to the Cabell County Prosecutor’s Office and it will be up to prosecutors to determine if Adams would face any charges.
“When they call down here and say, ‘Yes, we’re going to pursue charges against her,’ we’ll do the paperwork, we’ll do the legwork and we’ll make it happen,” Lucas said. “That’s their decision right now.”
According to a news release issued by Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean “Corky” Hammers on Thursday, charges are still being discussed and investigated.
As detectives investigated the alleged incident Tuesday, Adams’ story became inconsistent with other evidence and was uncorroborated by employees at the store, according to the release. Adams was then asked to come to the department and her second statement was inconsistent with her first and continued to be inconsistent with other evidence collected.
Protzman said Zayan was due to return to Egypt soon and hoped the trauma of the false accusation would not keep him from returning to America to visit. She noted how fast the false accusation had spread, making the news in Zayan’s home country.
“Our judicial system was founded on presumed innocence until proven guilty, but yet the court of public opinion is constantly condemning people,” she said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Zayan’s court of public opinion was worldwide.”
A spokesperson for the Huntington Mall said though it is legal to have a concealed weapon in the mall as consistent with state law, Adams’ judgment was probably wrong in this incident.
Reporter Fred Pace contributed to this report. Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801. Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.