gaveldecision.jpgAn employee at a market on San Francisco’s Haight Street accused of shooting a customer in the back during a dispute over a dog in February had attempted murder charges dropped against him today but was ordered to stand trial on lesser charges in the case.

Sam Kazzouh, 44, is accused of the Feb. 9 shooting at Fred’s New Lite Market, a store located at 1416 Haight St. near Masonic Avenue that is owned by his brother Fred.

The victim, a man named Michael Stafford, got into an argument earlier that day with Sam Kazzouh, who had allegedly kicked Stafford’s tan Chihuahua named Gizmo while it was in the store, police and prosecutors said.

As the argument escalated, Kazzouh allegedly retrieved a gun and fired three shots at Stafford, one of which struck him in the back. He survived the shooting but is now paralyzed as a result of his injuries, prosecutors said.

Kazzouh was arrested shortly afterward and pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury, and discharge of a firearm in a grossly negligent manner.

Gizmo, the dog at the center of the argument, died less than two weeks later when it was run over by a car at the intersection of Haight Street and Masonic Avenue. It was being cared for by one of Stafford’s friends, police said.

At a preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court today, several people testified who had been in the market before and during the argument and subsequent shooting.

Kevin Lee, a customer at the store, said Kazzouh originally got out a knife and tried to get Stafford to leave the store but he refused, saying “I’m going to gut you.”

Kazzouh then awent to get a gun and asked him again to leave, and Stafford allegedly said “Go ahead and shoot me,” Lee said.

Police Officer Michael Diskin, the first officer at the scene following the shooting, said he was down the street when he heard gunshots and ran up to find the victim lying on the sidewalk.

Diskin said he went inside and found Kazzouh with the gun and arrested him.

Sgt. Reese Burrows, who interviewed Kazzouh following the shooting, said he admitted to kicking the dog after saying “he was in a mood” that day.

Burrows said Kazzouh told him that Stafford left after the initial confrontation over the dog, but came back several minutes later when the shooting occurred.

Donald Todd, who was working as a volunteer at the store at the time, said Stafford was “very loud and abrasive” during the argument.

Adam Huber, who lives nearby, said he heard Stafford say after initially leaving the store that he was “going to come back and finish (Kazzouh) off.”

Kazzouh’s attorney, Christopher Hite from the public defender’s office, said the testimony provided “ample evidence … that he felt he had to defend himself.”

Assistant District Attorney Michele Dawson, who is prosecuting the case, countered that Stafford was unarmed and was shot in the back while trying to flee the store.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Suzanne Bolanos said there was not sufficient evidence to hold Kazzouh on the attempted murder charge, but ordered him to stand trial on the assault and firearm charges.

Bolanos also ordered the bail for Kazzouh to be reduced from $300,000 to $75,000 in light of the reduced charges in the case, over the objection of Dawson, who said Kazzouh was a public safety risk.

Kazzouh will return to court on Aug. 17 to be formally arraigned on the assault and firearm charges.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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