Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2 Men Tied to Neighborhood Watch Group Plead Guilty to Attack 

Two men linked to a Hasidic neighborhood watch group in Brooklyn admitted on Wednesday that they had taken part in a brutal attack three years ago on a young black man in the ultra-Orthodox section of Williamsburg.

The men, Abraham Winkler, 42, and Pinchas Braver, 21, were originally charged with assault and faced up to 25 years in prison, but under an agreement with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, they each pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn to the lesser crime of unlawful imprisonment. As part of the agreement, the men are expected to be sentenced in August to three years of probation and 150 hours of community service, which they must perform outside their neighborhood.

In the early morning of Dec. 1, 2013, prosecutors said, Mr. Winkler and Mr. Braver were among five Hasidic men who attacked Taj Patterson, then a 22-year-old fashion student who was walking home through the neighborhood after a night out drinking. The men, described by prosecutors as members or associates of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol, a private security group also known as a shomrim, were responding to an ultimately incorrect report that someone in the area had been vandalizing cars.

When the men saw Mr. Patterson, they mistook him for the vandal, prosecutors said, holding him down, kicking him and eventually fracturing his eye socket so badly that he lost vision in his right eye. Despite the fact that police officers at the scene spoke to four witnesses and had the license plate number of a car that at least one of the attackers used to flee, the case was quickly closed. It remained so until Mr. Patterson’s mother went to the press with her son’s story and the police reopened the investigation.

In April 2014, Mr. Winkler, Mr. Braver and three other men — Joseph Fried, Aharon Hollender and Mayer Herskovic — were arrested and charged with assaulting Mr. Patterson. But in the months that followed, the case began to fall apart.

Last year, prosecutors dismissed charges against Mr. Fried and Mr. Hollender, saying that the witnesses who had initially identified them had recanted. In court on Wednesday, prosecutors cited a similar reason for offering Mr. Winkler and Mr. Braver the opportunity to plead guilty to lesser charges and avoid time in prison. The case against Mr. Herskovic remains; he is scheduled to stand trial beginning Aug. 9.

“We’re thrilled to see that two of the people in Taj’s beating are now convicted criminals,” Andrew Stoll, Mr. Patterson’s lawyer, said. Mr. Stoll added that the pleas were “not the end of the matter, but the beginning.”

Mr. Patterson has filed a lawsuit against the Williamsburg Safety Patrol for negligent hiring practices, and Mr. Stoll said he planned to use the suit to explore the connection between the shomrim and the Police Department.


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