A 19-year-old Upper East Sider has been arrested in connection with three anti-gay attacks that took place in the neighborhood, two of which drew headlines for occurring during the recent Pride weekend. Driton Nicaj was charged with aggravated harassment and robbery as hate crimes after being picked up near his home on East 84th Street. Police say that Nicaj has confessed to one of the robberies and admitted to being a witness on-hand during the mugging of Joseph Holladay (pictured), the former Village Voice staffer who was mugged and called a faggot by a group of teens while he was down from Boston during Pride weekend.
The other attacks included a similar robbery the day after the Holladay incident of Michael Doane, a 40-year-old gay man, who was robbed of his iPod and hospitalized with skull fractures. The third incident took place on May 31st in Carl Schurz Park when a group of teens went up to a pair of 19-year-old men and said, “Are you guys gay? Gross.” They then robbed the victims of $22 cash.
Cops were led to Nicaj after pulling over a group of teenagers in a gold station wagon that matched one of the victim's descriptions of the getaway car. Those teenagers were not charged, but apparently one of them was Nicaj's brother, who was identified as a witness to one of the attacks. Police Commissioner Kelly said that cops are still searching for more suspects involved in the crimes.
Nicaj's father said that his son, who dropped out of high school this year to work a landscaping job, had only been involved in minor run-ins with the law for trespassing and truancy. But the Daily News reports that the teen has prior drug and drunken driving arrests in Pennsylvania. His father also told the Times that the allegations surprised him, saying, “My neighbor is gay and all my children have a friendly relationship with him." An Upper East Side neighbor of the Albanian immigrant family told NY1, "That makes it so much horrifying to me that it was someone from the neighborhood. It's disgraceful."