Earlier this month, a Long Island Rail Road passenger shared video of a man screaming racist remarks at other riders on a train from Penn Station. Now the Queens District Attorney has charged Long Beach resident Edward Ruggiero with menacing as a hate crime.
His lawyer argued it wasn't a hate crime, telling NBC New York, "The one thing we have a right to be in this country is to be a jerk."
Commuter Aneesa Rafeek captured the April 19th incident while taking the 9:53 p.m. train to Long Beach. She recalled, "An African American woman was behind him speaking on the phone (not loudly in my opinion as I was sitting only diagonally from him and could not hear her). He started off my mumbling under his breath and then escalated to yelling at her about being a loud mouth b!tch. When another young woman, also black, stood up for her, he continued to yell and then call them Monkeys."
Warning: This video is both racist and vulgar.
The Queens DA's office adds that he threatened to "smack the [expletive deleted] out of" the target of his rage.
Ruggiero, 58, was confronted shortly after the incident, after tipsters identified him as a stagehand for Manhattan theaters. The Daily News reported at the time, "Reached outside his home, Ruggiero denied that he was the man in the video despite looking and sounding exactly like him. 'It ain't me,' Ruggiero said. 'I've seen the video, yeah. A hundred guys at work have showed it to me, saying 'Oh my god! It looks like you!''"
Two sources tell Gothamist that he was fired from other employers for similar behavior, with one adding that he has a "long history of being a grade A asshole."
The News also spoke to the victim, Soraya Orelien, who said, "He needs to pay for what he's done to me...This cannot continue to happen. It's 2018."
Ruggiero was taken into custody and charged with both menacing as a hate crime and aggravated harassment. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. He told reporters after his court appearance, "That wasn't even me," but his lawyer Joseph Donatelli suggested that it was in fact Ruggiero.
According to NBC New York, Donatelli explained, "No question what he said was morally reprehensible, socially unacceptable, foul-mouthed, insulting. I just don't know whether or not it rolls to the level of a crime. The one thing we have a right to be in this country is to be a jerk... Of course he's sorry for what he says, he just, he lost it on the train."
He added that Ruggiero was likely more upset about Orelien's conversation: "I think he lost it when—again, I only have limited information—I saw when he was talking about her being a loudmouth, she says, 'Your mother is a loudmouth.' Some Italian American males are very sensitive when it comes to their mother. And when you talk about their mother, their gloves come off."
"Again, it's no excuse. I'm not making excuses for his behavior. My question is whether it rolls to a crime," Donatelli said.
"The bigotry and hatred that the defendant is accused of manifesting and acting upon have no place in a civilized societ—especially in Queens County, the most culturally diverse county in the nation," DA Brown said in a statement. "No one should be subjected to the vile words and intimidating actions the defendant is accused of tormenting the victim with. Crimes of hate will never be tolerated here and when they do, regrettably occur, those responsible will be brought to justice."