A Times Square regular whose sign says "Free Hugs" was arrested for allegedly punching a tourist who didn't tip him after taking a photograph with him. While being led from the police precinct, Jermaine Himmelstein admitted to reporters, "I was aggressively asking for tips."
Around 11 a.m. yesterday, Canadian tourist Sophie Violene Dauvios, 22, was apparently taking pictures with a friend on Broadway near West 45th Street when Himmelstein "darted over with a cardboard sign that read, 'Free Hugs' and squeezed into one of their photos," the Post reports.
“The girl was taking photos with her friend, and [he] walked in to get a hug,” said witness Brian Martinez.
After agreeing to give him a hug, Dauvios turned to walk away, apparently causing Himmelstein to snap.
“He puts his arm around one of the girls, and then he pulls out his wallet, like he’s asking for a tip,” said Martinez, a tour-bus sales rep.
When she refused, Himmelstein followed Dauvios down the street and punched her in the eye before dropping the sign and fleeing, cops said.
One witness, Karen Lewis, told the Post, "He hit her pretty hard. It’s going to take a few weeks for that to heal." Davis was taken to Mount Sinai West for a black eye, cuts and swelling.
Lewis also took a photo of the aftermath:
Himmelstein fled Times Square and was found four hours later in Union Square; an NYPD recruit who had his mugshot spotted him. NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neill said that Himmelstein "is no stranger to this. He has multiple prior arrests and several were for the same type of offense.”
According to WABC 7, "Himmelstein also is accused of punching a 23-year-old woman on April 29 as she was waiting for the subway near Times Square. Detectives are looking at whether he is linked to other unsolved similar assaults. He has been arrested 16 times since 2012. In 2013, he was arrested for throwing a can of soda at a woman who refused to hug him in Washington Square Park. The can bruised her face. He also is accused of punching a woman in the face on the Coney Island boardwalk last year."
The NY Times profiled Himmelstein in 2013; his parents, who say that he is autistic, had no idea he was traveling around the city with a "Free Hugs" sign and seemed distraught about their son. When they heard about the assault in Washington Square Park, his mother said, "Please tell every woman in America, I apologize. Any woman walking through that park, I apologize."
After a series of high profile incidents with Times Square characters either attacking, groping or frightening tourists, the City Council recently approved a measure that will force all Times Square entrepreneurs—from the Naked Cowboy to Elmo and masked superheroes, from desnudas to ticket sellers—to remain in designated areas, free speech cages, if you will. The Council is also reviving a long dormant bill that would require the costumed characters to register with the city and wear special tags.
A woman who believed she saw Himmelstein punch the woman at Coney Island told NBC New York, "He needs help, he's hurting people."