Police seem to have tried to deep-six an investigation into the brutal beatdown of a gay black man in Williamsburg, allegedly by Hasidic Jewish neighborhood watch members, and only reopened the case after the victim's mother made a fuss in the media. The Daily News reports that within a day of the December 2013 attack on then-fashion student Taj Patterson that left him with a broken eye socket and blind in one eye, the NYPD had marked the case a misdemeanor assault and labeled the case closed, with no arrests made.
Patterson was walking home along Flushing Avenue early in the morning when a group of men pounced on him, according to prosecutors. Five men accused him of damaging cars in the area and surrounded him, then were joined by another 10 people, and when Patterson tried to flee, they held him down and kicked and punched him, prosecutors allege.
The pummeling only ceased when a bus driver pulled over and started to take photos.
"That wasn’t a misdemeanor," the driver told the News.
"They were actually stomping and kicking him. One of his eyes was closed and so swollen. He was saying, 'My eye. I can’t see.'"
Somehow, the initial police report only mentioned one attacker, and called Patterson, "highly intoxicated, uncooperative and incoherent," according to the tabloid.
The NYPD wouldn't discuss the News's findings.
Realizing the case was going nowhere, Patterson's mother Zahra went on a publicity blitz, placing stories about the attack in several news outlets, and only then did the investigation pick up. Police arrested five men the following April, and in their indictment prosecutors claimed that the suspects were all members of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol, a Hasidic volunteer neighborhood watch group, members of which carry walkie talkies and sometimes drive imitation police vehicles. The group is supposed to notify the police of crimes in progress and sometimes make citizens' arrests, but has been accused of vigilantism and other attacks on black and Latino people in the neighborhood.
The revelation about the apparent mishandling of the investigation comes as high-ranking officers elsewhere in the NYPD are facing federal scrutiny for, among other things, allegedly taking bribes from a leader of the Williamsburg group's Borough Park counterpart, the Boro Park Shomrim, to grant gun permits to people who would otherwise have been denied them. Mayor Bill de Blasio halted city funding to the Borough Park group and is reassessing whether it is a "responsible vendor."
At the time of the Williamsburg indictment, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol condemned the attack and denied that all five suspects were members, but left open the possibility that some were. Two of those arrested have since had their charges dropped. The remaining three, Abraham Winkler, 39, Mayer Herskovic, 21, and Pinchas Braver, 19, are facing a slew of felony charges including gang assault, false imprisonment, and assault.
All three are out on bail and are supposed to go to trial in 10 days, though that could be postponed. Patterson is also suing the Williamsburg Safety Patrol for his injuries. That case is set to go to trial in June. Patterson's mother told the News that the NYPD was dead wrong on this one.
"You can’t just close the case and leave him half-dead and blind on the street," she said. "You can’t do that."