Five members of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit, a neighborhood watch group also known as Shomrim, have been charged in the gang assault of Fort Greene resident Taj Patterson, whom they thought was a vandal.
The men — Pinchas Braver, 19; Joseph Freid, 25; Mayer Herskovic, 21; Aharon Hollander, 28; and Abraham Winkler, 39 — surrounded Patterson while he was walking home on Flushing Avenue last December, according to the Kings Country District Attorney. Here’s the DA office’s description of what ensued:
According to court documents, the defendants began to chase Patterson along Flushing Avenue, while he was walking home in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Members of the patrol detained Patterson while investigating neighbors’ reports that he had damaged cars; however, they did not call the police. Despite the fact that these reports of vandalism proved to be unfounded, the group, which had grown to approximately 15 members, surrounded Patterson, preventing him from continuing his walk home. When Patterson tried to get away from the group, he was held down, and savagely punched and kicked by a number of the males surrounding him, including these defendants.
As a result of the attack, Patterson no longer has vision in his right eye.
The five men face multiple charges, including gang assault in the first and second degrees, and could see up to 25 years in prison.
In a press release, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said the indictments were “a clear message that acts of vigilantism are unacceptable and cannot be condoned by the NYPD.”
In addition to the District Attorney, the case was investigated by the New York Police hate crimes division. Days after the attack, Patterson described it to the Daily News: “I’m walking down some block by myself and then the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by a group of Hasidic Jewish men and they’re attacking me.” He also speculated about their motives: “I was alone. I was an easy target. I’m black. I’m gay, a whole slew of reasons.”