Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A lawyer for the only defendant tried and convicted in a gang assault in Brooklyn that left a black man blind in one of his eyes has appealed her client's guilty verdict, claiming he was "a scapegoat" in the attack and there was insufficient evidence to prove he was involved.
In court papers filed on Friday, the lawyer said that her client, Mayer Herskovic, was innocent of the assault on the man, Taj Patterson, who was chased and beaten by a group of Hasidic Jews — some of them members of a local neighborhood watch patrol — on a street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn on Dec. 1, 2013. Mr. Patterson, then a 22-year-old fashion student, was walking toward the subway on Flushing Avenue after a night of drinking with friends when members of the patrol, known as the Shomrim, saw him moving between the street and sidewalk and mistakenly believed that he was vandalizing cars.
Three of the Hasidic men gave chase and, within minutes, prosecutors said, a larger group confronted Mr. Patterson. Some of them attacked him so severely with their fists and feet that his right eye socket was fractured, prosecutors said. Despite the police speaking to several witnesses and getting the license plate number of a car that at least one of the attackers had used to flee, the case was quickly closed. It remained so until Mr. Patterson's mother went to the news media with her son's account and the police reopened the investigation, resulting in gang assault charges being filed the following year against five men, including Mr. Herskovic.
But given the circumstances surrounding the attack — a dark street and several possible assailants, many of them dressed in similar clothes — the Brooklyn district attorney's office later said it was unable to collect enough evidence to merit bringing four of the men to trial. Prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges against two of them — Joseph Fried, 29, and Aharon Hollender, 31. Two others — Abraham Winkler, 43, and Pinchas Braver, 22 — pleaded guilty last year to lesser charges and avoided time in prison.
Only Mr. Herskovic, 25, went to trial. He was convicted in September of gang assault, menacing and unlawful imprisonment even though Mr. Patterson testified that he was not one of the main attackers.
At the trial, the sole evidence that placed Mr. Herskovic at the scene was a DNA sample that had been found on one of Mr. Patterson's sneakers, which was discovered on a rooftop after the attack. But in her appeal, Mr. Herskovic's lawyer, Donna Aldea, said that the DNA evidence was scientifically inconclusive and had been obtained by a method that another judge in Brooklyn had recently ruled was unsuitable for use at trial.
Ms. Aldea said that Mr. Hersokvic was "a scapegoat, offered up to take the fall for those too well connected to be charged, when public pressure demanded that someone be held accountable." In her appeal, she mentioned Joel Itzkowitz, a member of the Williamsburg Hasidic community, whose brother, Jacob, is the coordinator for the local chapter of the Shomrim. Even though two witnesses at Mr. Herskovic's trial identified Mr. Itzkowitz as one of the three men who initially chased Mr. Patterson, he was never arrested because, prosecutors said, there was insufficient evidence that he took part in the assault.
A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney's office declined to comment on the appeal, pending a review of Ms. Aldea's appeal.
When Mr. Herskovic was sentenced in March to four years in prison, Mr. Patterson's lawyer, Andrew Stoll, told reporters that he had written three letters to the district attorney's office calling for the arrest of Mr. Itzkowitz, who, he claimed, had not been charged in the case because of his brother's political clout. "There should be a robust independent investigation into that," Mr. Stoll said.
In a pending lawsuit filed last year in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, Mr. Stoll argued that "favoritism and preferential treatment" has long existed between the police and Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish communities.
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