Ethiopian Political Head-Butting in Southwest Houston Spawns Lawsuit, Criminal Charge

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An Ethiopian-American man handing out flyers for a memorial service for Ethiopia's recently deceased prime minister, Meles Zenawi, claims he was assaulted by a countryman who reviled the repressive leader, according to criminal and civil court documents.

The victim and plaintiff, Tesfai Tsadik, is suing both Wossenu Gizaw, the alleged assailant, and Debre Salam Medahnealem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Fondren Southwest house of worship near which the alleged assault took place.

According to the pleadings in the civil suit, on August 26, Tsadik attended services at the church. After church let out, Tsadik went across the street and started handing out flyers for Zenawi's memorial service.

That might not have been the wisest move. According to the suit:

The church founders and many of its members are opponents of Meles Zenawi. The members of the church, including members in leadership positions, have openly shared their views and hatred of Meles Zenawi and his government. In fact, church members and leaders protested outside during the funeral of Mr. Zenawi.

So apparently Tsadik was decidedly not preaching to the choir. Even so, this is a free country, and what allegedly happened next is reprehensible.

According to the suit, an unidentified man drove by and told Tesfai to stop handing out the flyers. When Tesfai refused, the man drove back to the church and re-emerged with Gizaw, a man Tesfai reportedly had known for five years. With absolutely no preamble of any kind, no exchange of heated words, nothing, "Gizaw head-butted Tesfai so hard that he was knocked out cold," according to the suit. And then, the suit goes on to claim, Gizaw and his fellow church members continued to kick Tesfai while he was unconscious.

When he came to minutes later, Tesfai was bruised on his backside, face and left eye, his upper lip was busted, his head was pounding, and he was dizzy. He now claims to be unable to work.

Gizaw has been charged with assault/bodily injury. After bonding out and resetting a court date, he has vanished. A capias warrant has been issued for his arrest. So far, neither he nor the church have filed a response to Tesfai's suit, which is being handled by attorney Papa M. Dieye.

To broadly summarize a New York Times obituary of late prime minister Zenawi, many observers saw him as an extremely pro-development leader and loyal friend to the American government, especially in its fight against Muslim extremists in the Horn of Africa. His detractors claim he was savagely repressive, a chronic imprisoner of journalists, political opponents and dissidents.

The former rebel leader came to power in 1995 and both his fans and haters could agree that he was an extremely intelligent man and a shrewd operator. The former med student was said to be able to absorb seas of statistics at a single setting and had a penchant for quoting Shakespeare at length.

Which is fitting, as he seems to have left his country a nation of Montagues and Capulets.

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