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Yes, But Was It Real Assault?

by Pat Arnow

Two teenagers, joking and trash talking each other, get on an elevator at an apartment building at 417 Grand St. Friday evening. A woman, about 30, gets on at the same time and pushes the button for her floor. The kids don't push a button. They get off with her. That's odd, she thinks. No one on her floor has teenage kids these guys might be visiting. She's suddenly wary and doesn't pull out her keys. The teenagers come over to her. Inches from her face, one says, "Do you have any money?"

No, she says. He's taller than she is, and she's tall. "Do you have any money?" he asks her again. Then the other kid asks. She says no. She tells them they need to leave and go back down to security.

They go to the elevator and hit the button. When the doors open, she heads down the stairs, not realizing the kids had not gotten on the elevator. They are behind her on the stairs. She gets out ahead of them and reports the incident to the building's security guard. The kids have disappeared.

After reviewing surveillance video, security find the kids left by the back door. They had stopped at the desk when they first came in. One signed in using the name "James Pond" (which is the name of a computer game). He said he didn't have an I.D. with him, and that he was visiting an apartment that turned out didn't exist.

Saturday, the woman, still shaken, decides to drop by the 7th Precinct to see if she should file a report. She's a native of Detroit, a long-time resident of the Lower East Side and not prone to hysteria about rowdy teenagers. But being backed against the wall in a dark hallway just outside her apartment door worries her in a way that a similar encounter with a couple of teens on the street would not.

An Officer Nicholas is at the front desk of the police station on Delancey and Pitt. The woman describes what happened. The officer wants to know what race the kids were. Black. (She's white.) How old? About 15. Did they demand money? No. Did they touch you? No.

Officer Nicholas says it doesn't sound like a report needed to be filed. "They just politely asked for money," he says.

"It wasn't polite. They were up in my face," the woman objects. Like this. She indicates inches.

It doesn't sound like they committed a crime, says Officer Nicholas. It seems like trespassing would be the only crime they might have committed. Why didn't you call 911 last night?

I didn't think of it then. I was upset, she says. She wonders if the police might be interested in a couple of kids who were looking for trouble. Have there been other incidents? No, he says.

Do you think we should take a report? he asks the sergeant, who has been sitting at the front desk with him the whole time. She says nothing, just gets up and walks away.

You can file one if you want to, Officer Nicholas says.

Couldn't what happened be considered an assault? asks the woman's friend who had accompanied her for moral support (that would be me).

Assault results in injury, the officer explains. Like if I hit you with these, Officer Nicholas says, holding up a pair of handcuffs in his fist. If I punch you in the face, and it swells up, that's assault. If I smack you, or kick you and break your leg, that's assault.

By then, the woman and I are backing up. He's given us enough graphic details of what he could do to us that would constitute a real assault. We leave.

But we learned a couple of things. Verbal intimidation is no crime in New York. And if you don't like it, don't go complaining to the police, or you might just get some more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is at least a tresspassing and attempted robbery charge.

1/29/2007 6:38 PM  
Blogger Keliata said...

Under the NYS Penal Law it was also second-degree harassment (a violation, but still a crime for which they should have been arrested and charged.)

Second-degree harassment involves alarming, annoying, or angering someone. Clearly they did and should have been charged. In Buffalo they would have.

One could also argue racial intimidation/hate crime but a black person will never get charged with a hate crime against a white person.

2/01/2007 4:51 PM  
Blogger Keliata said...

Perhaps a look at what the actual law says about assault (third degree) and second-degree harassment will help to clarify the situation:


Section 120.00 Assault in the third degree

A person is guilty of assault in the third degree when:

1. With intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person; or

2. He recklessly causes physical injury to another person; or

3. With criminal negligence, he causes physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

Assault in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor.

Section 240.26 Harassment in the second degree

A person is guilty of harassment in the second degree when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person:

1. He or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same; or

2. He or she follows a person in or about a public place or places; or

3. He or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

Subdivisions two and three of this section shall not apply to activities regulated by the national labor relations act, as amended, the railway labor act, as amended, or the federal employment labor management act, as amended.

Harassment in the second degree is a violation.

2/01/2007 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should be charged with the higher crime og attempted robbery and tresspass first. Harrassment is a lower crime and there was no harrassment or assault.

2/01/2007 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that taking the report then results in a crime stat. The last thing the precinct needs is an empty stat - one that will not result in an arrest but yet is indicative of a criminal act of sorts. The way to get away from the stat is to not take the report. No report, no stat. Who is to blame for this mindset? Well, it's not "who" but rather "what". The answer: COMPSTAT. The monthly police comanders meeting where the crime stats in the respective commands are reviewed. Any increase in a particular stat is sure to result in a grilling for the commanding officer of that particular command. So, the intake of a police report is disuaded at the onset by offering these "calming" words: "sounds like a civil matter to me". The need to measure crime is a good thing and a valuable tool; however, it also can have a negative impact. Refusing to take a report is one such negative impact. Not all criminal acts are murders and violent robberies and so, the "everyday crime" is often underreported (under accepted reporting???) because that has an adverse impact on the
aforementioned stat keeping. Modify the COMPSTAT process where a commanding officer is not put to the fire, and maybe the trickle down effect will be to accept these reports. Until the time comes where COMPSTAT is re-organized, then citizens with these type of "mundane" complaints will continually be turned away at the door.

2/12/2007 1:45 PM  

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