DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

Wife Abuse Rap Casts Shadow On "Zeitoun" Hero

Subject of lauded Dave Eggers book copped to attack


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Zeitoun Arrest Report

JANUARY 31--The New Orleans man whose post-Hurricane Katrina heroics and tribulations were chronicled by best-selling author Dave Eggers in the book “Zeitoun” was convicted last year of battering his wife, who told police that she had received several prior beatings, but never called cops on her spouse.

According to a New Orleans Police Department report, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, 54, was arrested last March after officers responded to a domestic battery call at the Uptown home of his wife Kathryn and the couple’s five children.

Upon arriving at the Dart Street residence, cops found Kathryn face down on the living room floor holding an ice-filled cloth to her forehead. Three of her children were nearby “crying hysterically,” police reported.

Kathryn Zeitoun, 40, told officers that she was separated from her husband “due to finances,” and that he was living next door in a home on Dart Street. She said that after her estranged husband entered the home around 6:30 PM on March 2, they got into a “heated verbal argument” that quickly became physical.

Zeitoun told cops that her husband pushed her to the living room floor, “mounting her and hitting her in the back of the head with a closed fist.” She added that, “her face was smashed into the floor of the residence several times during the battery,” police reported.

The assault ended when the couple’s 15-year-old daughter--responding to her mother’s screams for help--kicked her father in the neck, causing him to fall off Kathryn and flee the residence. The teen said she observed her father “beating her mother.” A second daughter interviewed by cops corroborated statements by her mother and sister (the child watched the entire assault from the kitchen).

Before an ambulance arrived to transport her to Tulane University Hospital, Kathryn told officers that she has “received beatings from her husband several times prior,” but that she “never reported them to the police out of fear.” The police report does not include further details of these alleged prior attacks.

Abdularahman Zeitoun, a contractor and landlord, was later arrested and named in a March 30 criminal information charging him with domestic abuse battery. Zeitoun is pictured in the above mug shot.

In a subsequent plea bargain, Zeitoun copped to a reduced charge of negligent injuring. During a June 9 District Court hearing, he received a six-month suspended jail term and was placed on two years of “intensive probation.” He was also barred from owning a gun and directed to complete a 26-week anger management course. Additionally, a judge issued a protective order barring him from contacting his wife.

Zeitoun was represented by attorney William Sothern, whom Eggers has credited with helping him “all the way through” the preparation of “Zeitoun.”

Published in mid-2009, the nonfiction book describes how Zeitoun, a Muslim who was born in Syria, rode out Katrina after sending his family to Baton Rouge (where Kathryn grew up).  After the levees broke, he used a borrowed canoe to rescue stranded neighbors and abandoned pets, while also distributing supplies and checking on tenants in buildings he owned.

The book, which features on its cover a drawing of Zeitoun paddling a canoe, also details how he was detained in a makeshift jail when cops and National Guard members suspected that he and several companions might be terrorists.

Eggers, who has described the Zeitouns as a “beautiful family,” worked closely with the couple on the book, which has won critical acclaim and many awards, including a 2010 American Book Award and a 2010 “Distinguished Honor” from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The film director Jonathan Demme is also working on a screenplay adaptation of “Zeitoun.”

At the time of the book’s publication, Eggers (pictured at right) and the Zeitouns formed The Zeitoun Foundation, which describes its mission as the “continued rebuilding and social advancement of New Orleans” and the promotion of “understanding between people of disparate faiths around the world.” While a portion of the book’s proceeds go to the Zeitouns, Eggers has said that the “brunt” of the money earned was earmarked for the charitable foundation.

According to the foundation’s web site, the group has distributed more than $250,000 in grants. The site also notes that a variety of cities and universities have added “Zeitoun” to reading programs. Last week, for example, the town of Greenwich, Connecticut announced that “Zeitoun” had been selected for a communitywide reading program that culminates in April with two weeks worth of discussions, programs, and lectures about the work.

As seen above, the foundation’s web site still includes a photo of the Zeitouns with four of their children. (5 pages)