In December 2013, 22-year-old Taj Patterson was walking home through Williamsburg in the early hours of the morning when a group of men attacked him, yelling anti-gay slurs and giving him a broken eye socket that would leave him blind in one eye. Two men have now admitted to taking part in the attack, and pleaded guilty in Brooklyn state supreme court yesterday; however, as part of a plea bargain with the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, they pleaded guilty to lesser charges than those for which they were initially arrested.
Abraham Winkler, 42, and Pinchas Braver, 21, were among five men arrested in 2014 in connection with the attack on Taj Patterson. Police also arrested Joseph Fried, then 25, Aharon Hollender, then 28, and Mayer Herskovic, then 21.
However, prosecutors later dismissed charges against Fried and Hollender because the witnesses who'd identified them changed their statements. Herskovic didn't take the plea deal, and is scheduled to go to trial on August 19th to face a host of felony and misdemeanor charges.
Winkler and Braver were initially charged with gang assault in the first degree, a class B felony that, along with their other charges, could have earned them over 25 years in prison each. However, as part of their deal with the DA, they pleaded guilty only to unlawful imprisonment, which is a misdemeanor. They'll be sentenced on August 9th, and are expected to receive three years probation and 150 hours of community service, along with restitution charges of $1,400.
Prosecutors say that Winkler and Braver are members of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol, a Hasidic volunteer neighborhood watch group whose members carry walkie talkies and sometimes even drive vehicles made to look like the ones the police use. The patrol sometimes makes citizens' arrests and is supposed to notify the NYPD of crimes in progress, but it has previously been accused of targeting black and Latino neighborhood residents. Patterson's attackers allegedly accused him of vandalizing cars in the neighborhood, and held him down while they kicked him.
The attack had multiple witnesses—but in the immediate aftermath, police appeared to try to bury the case, marking it as misdemeanor assault and closing the file.
It was only when Patterson's mother Zahra went to the media that, months later, police reopened the case and made those five arrests.
"You can't just close the case and leave him half-dead and blind on the street," Patterson's mother told the Daily News earlier this month. "You can't do that."
Patterson is also suing the Williamsburg Safety Patrol, and that case is set to go to trial on June 1st. He's accused the group of negligence, and is seeking unspecified damages for his myriad injuries.
Patterson's lawyer, Andrew Stoll, said yesterday that he thinks there should be a larger investigation into the neighborhood watch group, and will use that suit to explore the group's connection with the NYPD. Several NYPD officers are currently under federal scrutiny for allegedly taking bribes from a leader of the Boro Park Shomrim, a Borough Park counterpart to the Williamsburg group, to expedite gun licenses, and Mayor de Blasio recently halted funding to that group while it determines whether or not it's a "a responsible vendor."