INDIANAPOLIS — A Plainfield man has been found guilty of murder over 4 years after police say he shot and killed a Muslim man in Indianapolis after a road rage incident on I-465 led to an argument that witnesses said had ethnic undertones.
A jury in Marion County Superior Court returned a guilty verdict Wednesday for the murder charge filed against 37-year-old Dustin E. Passarelli of Plainfield. Passarelli’s sentencing hearing is now scheduled for 2 p.m. on June 21.
The charge against Passarelli stems from the February 2019 shooting death of 32-year-old Mustafa Ayoubi at an apartment complex on the northwest side of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said the shooting stemmed from a road rage incident.
The road rage incident
IMPD said the initial road rage incident started around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2019, on Interstate 465 near 38th Street.
IMPD said Passarelli told homicide detectives that Ayoubi threw something at or hit his car, so Passarelli followed him home.
Passarelli said he then followed Ayoubi’s car onto W. 38th Street; they circled McDonald’s twice before stopping at Wind Drift Drive East. He told investigators he “wanted to get the [insurance] info from the driver in case there was damage” to his car.
Friends of Ayoubi told police they were waiting for him to come home so they could play some pool. When he arrived, they heard arguing and saw Ayoubi standing by the side of a vehicle.
Multiple witnesses said the driver, identified as Passarelli, was “cussing at Mr. Ayoubi and using religious and ethnic insults like,’ Go back to your country’,” and “Muhammed was a pedophile,” according to court documents.
However, Passarelli offered a different account. He said Ayoubi made an anti-Semitic remark, prompting him to hurl back insults in return.
Ayoubi’s friends said that they tried to diffuse the situation but Passarelli was undeterred. They also said Passarelli told them they’d “better take [Ayoubi] inside or something’s gonna happen.”
“At some point during the argument, Passarelli threatened to shoot Ayoubi,” court docs read.
Passarelli told IMPD that Ayoubi then came over to his car and made a fist “as if he was about to punch Passarelli’s driver’s side window.” Around this time, Passarelli fired his gun.
“In response, Passarelli drew his Glock 19 9mm semiautomatic handgun and shot multiple times through his vehicle’s window glass, striking Ayoubi in the shoulder and then several times in the back as he was running away.”Court documents filed against Dustin E. Passarelli
As three of Ayoubi’s friends ran back inside the apartment to call 911, court docs show Passarelli moved his car, called 911 and began to give Ayoubi CPR.
IMPD officers were called to the 3900 block of Wind Drift Drive E. just after 8 p.m. for a person shot and found Ayoubi lying in the parking lot; he was pronounced dead just before 8:40 p.m.
“An autopsy revealed that Ayoubi had been shot once in the shoulder from the front and seven times in the back,” court docs show.
Witnesses said Passarelli shined a laser light in Ayoubi’s face before shooting at him, court documents show. Ayoubi was found to be unarmed at the time of the shooting.
While investigating, IMPD found “no damage whatsoever” to Passarelli’s car despite his claiming that Ayoubi had tried to damage it multiple times. Officers did, however, find that one of his car windows had been shattered by gunfire.
Additionally, Passarelli’s handgun was found to have nine live rounds in the cartridge and IMPD said officers found seven spent cartridge shells inside his car.
Passarelli was arrested by IMPD and charged with murder on Feb. 21, five days after the shooting and the same day of Ayoubi’s funeral.
A jury trial was initially scheduled for May 2020 but was met with multiple delays, some caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and appeals.
One such appeal, filed in 2022, claimed that PTSD that Passarelli developed during his time in the Army, was a contributing factor in his response to the road rage incident and was partially to blame for the shooting.
However, in 2023, Passarelli’s mental evaluation and PTSD claims were deemed to be inadmissible in court.
The jury trial against Passarelli eventually began on Monday, May 15. The trial jury began deliberations around 2 p.m. Wednesday and returned a guilty verdict that same day.
Passarelli was ordered to remain in custody until his sentencing hearing on June 21. He was also convicted of the Felony Firearm Enhancement, which according to Marion Co. Prosecutor Ryan Mears can enhance a sentence by 5-20 years.
“We are pleased to finally bring justice to Mustafa Ayoubi, his family, and the Hoosier Muslim community who have been impacted by this tragedy,” Mears said Thursday. “The prosecutor’s office will continue to advocate on behalf of victims and combat hate in our community.”
The murder of Ayoubi sparked renewed debate over hate crime legislation in Indiana due to the ethnic undertones and racially charged nature of the shooting.
At the time, the Council on American Islamic Relations asked police to investigate Ayoubi’s death as a hate crime. Additionally, the FBI said it was looking into whether this is a federal civil rights violation case, although no federal charges were ever filed.
“We are asking Indiana, our home, to provide us the protection we deserve,” Mustafa’s sister Zahra Ayoubi said in 2019.
Ayoubi’s death came at a time when Indiana legislators were debating a new hate crime law that was never passed. However, lawmakers passed a bias crimes bill in 2019 that allows judges to impose longer sentences for crimes motivated by bias.
Across the city, vigils were held for Ayoubi with both the Indianapolis Muslim community and the city at large showing support for his family.
“We want Mustafa’s story to serve as a warning to all the bigots, all the people filled with hate, that we will not be brushed to the side,” Mustafa’s brother Mohammad Khalid Ayoubi said at one such vigil.