BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Giving credence to allegations that police initially made little effort to investigate a brutal attack on a black gay man in Williamsburg, the detective in the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force who took over the case six days after the assault said he received a single report from the local precinct when he began his investigation.
“I think it was just a single interview,” Eric Sanchez, the lead detective, said during trial testimony in Brooklyn Supreme Court on August 30 when asked about any contact with witnesses early in the investigation.
Taj Patterson, now 25, was assaulted in the Brooklyn neighborhood early in the morning on December 1, 2013 allegedly by members of a community patrol organized the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community that dominates a portion of Williamsburg. He suffered a broken eye socket, bruises, abrasions, and was left blind in one eye. The single interview was with Patterson.
Pinchas Braver and Abraham Winkler pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the attack. Charges against Aharon Hollender and Joseph Fried were dropped. Mayer Herskovic refused a deal, and his trial began on August 29. He faces multiple counts of unlawful imprisonment, assault, gang assault, and menacing.
In June of this year, Patterson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, three of the police officers who were involved in the initial investigation, the five men who were charged and a sixth man, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol, and the Shmira Volunteer Patrol. In the lawsuit, Patterson charged that the city and the police department have long privileged these patrols and this community. The initial investigation is just one more example.
“The defendant officers personally participated in the decision not to pursue an investigation into crimes committed against [Patterson], based solely upon the races, religions, and sexual preferences of [Patterson] and other defendants,” the federal complaint charges.
A day after the assault, Patterson obtained a police record called a 61 that showed the investigation had been closed about an hour after the attack, which occurred at roughly 4:40 a.m. The 61 is dated December 1, 2013 and is time stamped 5:45 a.m. It says “CLOSED” under “Case Status.” The record lists names and contact information for four witnesses to the assault and gives the license plate numbers for two cars that the assailants used to leave the scene. The attack was described as a misdemeanor assault in the 61.
Andrew Stoll, a partner at Stoll, Glickman & Bellina, who is representing Patterson in the federal case, has been attending the Herskovic trial. He was not surprised by the testimony.
“It’s what everybody has long known to be the practice that when Orthodox Jews are suspected of a crime, they are either not arrested or walked out of the backdoor of a precinct,” Stoll told Gay City News. “Quite the opposite is true if an Orthodox Jew is a victim of a crime, then the practice is to bend over backwards.”
Eventually, as many as 20 police officers and detectives were involved in the investigation, and it lasted five to six months. The investigation was difficult even after it was handed off to the Hate Crimes Task Force. When police canvassed for video footage that might show the attack, neighborhood residents were “uncooperative,” Sanchez testified. They obtained some video footage only after sending Jewish police officers into the neighborhood saying they were looking for video evidence related to a robbery of a Jewish person on December 1. That “ruse,” as Sanchez termed it, produced some video.
When Israel Fried, Herskovic’s attorney, asked Sanchez if that lack of cooperation was typical of a number of communities, Sanchez said, “Not this magnitude.”
As of August 31, no witness at the trial had identified Herskovic as one of the men who attacked Patterson. However, on that day, Patterson testified that the man who punched and kicked him in the face was the same man who pulled off his sneaker and threw it onto a nearby roof. Patterson’s sneaker was recovered from that roof and it had Herskovic’s DNA on it.
On August 30, Evelyn Keys, a city bus driver who was named on the 61, testified that on the night of the attack her bus was blocked by cars as she drove down Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. She saw “a group of Hasidic Jews” standing in a circle on the sidewalk near the cars. She saw one of them toss something on to the roof of an adjacent building.
Keys stood in the door of her bus and overheard a man say to one of the men in the circle, “I’m not going to leave here and let you hurt him like that.”
When the men left in the cars that had blocked her way, she went to the young man who was lying on the sidewalk. He said, “I can’t see, I can’t breathe,” Keys said.
“He was speaking softly as though he was in pain,” she said. “He was in agony.”