Grand Jury to Weigh Indictment in Islan Nettles Killing
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | The 20-year-old Manhattan man arrested for what witnesses said was a brutal attack on a transgender woman in Harlem shortly after midnight on August 17 is due back in court on October 4, by which time he will likely have faced grand jury consideration of stiffer charges than the third-degree assault and second-degree harassment he is currently charged with. Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old resident of West 131st Street, spent her final days in a coma and died on August 22 after being taken off life support. Paris Wilson was arrested shortly after the attack, which left Nettles “unconscious on the ground with a swollen shut eye and blood on her face,” according to the criminal complaint filed against the suspect.
Suspect in brutal attack on 21-year-old transgender woman out on bail, due in court October 4
According to police, Nettles and a friend were approached by a group of men who began hurling homophobic insults and throwing punches after realizing the women were transgender.
The fatal attack occurred near 148th Street and Eighth Avenue, across the street from a public housing police service area. Several media outlets quoted Nettles’ family members saying that the victim and Wilson, a student at Buffalo State, were “friends” on Facebook. According to Detective Cheryl Crispin, an NYPD spokeswoman, subsequent to the original charges being filed, police determined that “derogatory language” was used in the attack, so the department’s Hate Crime Task Force was brought into the case. What is unclear at this point is how an assault that left the victim unconscious initially resulted in only misdemeanor assault and harassment charges. One city official with knowledge of the investigation, who declined to be identified, suggested the severity of Nettles’ injuries were not immediately clear. But media accounts, based on police and witness sources, have uniformly described the attack as “savage” and “brutal.” On August 23, the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide caused by “blunt force trauma.”
Neither the NYPD nor the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office would comment on what charges Wilson might eventually face. (Editor’s note: Several hours after this story was posted, the DA’s office issued the following statement from District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.: “The death of Islan Nettles, a young transgender woman who was assaulted in Harlem last month and later died of her injuries, is a tragedy. It is also a crime that remains very much under investigation. This case has the full attention of my Office’s Hate Crimes Unit, comprised of senior prosecutors who have decades of experience in law enforcement.” Later in that statement, Vance added, “We are working aggressively to evaluate all of the credible evidence as we assess what charges can be proven. In making that assessment, we will proceed as expeditiously as the evidence allows, but no more quickly than we should to complete a full investigation.” The district attorney ended his statement by urging anyone with information about the case to contact the D.A.’s Hate Crimes Unit Hotline at 212-335-3100.) According to DA’s office, after Wilson’s arrest, “someone other than defendant came into the precinct and made incriminating statements about their involvement. We are actively investigating this new development.” The New York Post subsequently reported that police sources told that newspaper that Wilson’s mother put a friend of her son’s up to confessing and saying he had been too drunk to remember his actions. The NYPD and the DA’s office did not comment on this point, and the city official who spoke to Gay City News on background merely pointed to the Post story. It is unknown whether the self-incriminating statements made by the second individual have complicated the effort to upgrade the charges against Wilson. According to the DA’s office, Wilson’s October 4 court date is scheduled “for possible grand jury action.” Represented by Legal Aid, he is out on $2,000 bail.
Nettles’ LinkedIn page described a young woman who graduated from the Bread and Roses Integrated Arts School in Harlem, had taken classes at the New York College of Technology, and hoped to work in the fashion industry. Her work experience included design duties at Ay’Medici, a Harlem fashion company, and service as a photographer and fashion instructor at the Harlem Children’s Zone. Family and friends of Nettles, assisted by several LGBT organizations, held a vigil for the victim on the evening of August 28 about a block from where she was attacked. At times, the event was disrupted by shouting when several attendees challenged family members and others who referred to Nettles using the word “he.” Since late spring, the city has seen a surge in anti-LGBT violence, with assaults near Madison Square Garden and in the East Village and Soho. On May 18, Mark Carson, a 32-year-old gay man, was shot to death point blank in a homophobic assault in the West Village. On August 14, two gay men were attacked shortly after midnight in Chelsea by a group of up to six men shouting homophobic slurs. One of the victims required stitches under his lip and the other underwent an MRI to check for a possible concussion.
Borough President Scott Stringer termed the killing of Nettles “appalling and unacceptable,” while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Lower Manhattan State Senator Daniel Squadron, the sponsor of the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, and his out gay colleague, Brad Hoylman of Chelsea, called on Albany to act quickly to enact the transgender civil rights law, which would broaden the language of the state hate crime statute to include protections based on gender identity and expression. In a joint statement, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Harlem Councilmembers Robert Jackson and Inez Dickens urged New Yorkers “to embrace our differences and to denounce hate violence,” and said anyone with information about the crime should contact the NYPD through the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.