Grand Jury to Hear Evidence in Times Square Assault on Police Officers
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Grand Jury to Hear Evidence in Times Square Assault on Police Officers

As he prepares to present evidence to a grand jury on Tuesday against a group of men charged with assaulting police officers in Times Square, the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, is under pressure over his handling of the case.

In all, seven men were arrested following the Jan. 27 assault, in which an officer and a lieutenant sustained minor injuries. All of them were migrants, according to a law enforcement official.

Prosecutors decided not to ask the judge to hold most of the men on bail, and after they were released from prison last week, four of them fled the city, according to the official.

Mr Bragg quickly became the subject of unusual public criticism from the police. In response, he expressed concern that all the perpetrators might not have been correctly identified.

In an announcement on Saturday that a grand jury would hear evidence in their case, he described a normal procedure in the criminal justice system. But in publicizing the move in a joint statement with the police commissioner, Mr. Bragg appeared to be trying to convey the seriousness with which his office was taking the case, and to show that he was working with the Police Department.

Last week, the department’s chief of patrol, John Chell, lashed out over prosecutors’ decision not to ask for bail for the men charged in the attack, saying, “They should be sitting in Rikers right now, on bail.” He added, “You want to know why our cops are getting assaulted? There are no consequences.”

A law enforcement official said that the men were migrants who had been in the country less than a year and lived in shelters, and that four fled the city after arraignment, using bus tickets purchased with help from a church group. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr Bragg, a Democrat, defended last week the decision not to seek bail for most of the men in what he called a “despicable” attack, adding, “We make decisions based on the evidence we have before us at the time.” He said that his office had seen “no evidence in this case of a flight” but that it was “investigating allegations.”

Mr Bragg added that proper identification was required to “secure a conviction and get accountability and send the right people to prison,” emphasizing the phrase “right people.” His office has already declined to prosecute one of the men initially arrested, citing a lack of evidence.

In the joint statement with Police Commissioner Edward Caban, Mr. Bragg said, “It is clear from video and other evidence that some of the most culpable individuals have not yet been identified or arrested.”

Mr Caban added, “We will work tirelessly with the office of the Manhattan district attorney to identify and arrest every person who participated in this event.”

The case and the outcry over Mr. Bragg’s handling of it touches on several hot-button issues. Among them are criticism of New York’s bail-reform laws, which bar judges from setting bail in most nonviolent crimes, and many New Yorkers’ declining patience with footing the bill for the care of the nearly 70,000 migrants housed in city shelters.

Most of the men arrested in the attack were charged with felony assault, a crime that remains eligible for bail even under changes in New York State bail law. Nevertheless, they were released without bail.

The firestorm recalled past episodes in which Mr. Bragg did not proactively address politically charged cases and policy decisions, including a 2022 case in which a bodega clerk who killed an attacker was initially charged with homicide. He has faced backlash from both Democrats and Republicans in such instances, often responding some time after criticism has begun.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, Democrat of New York, said at a news conference on Wednesday that she was “looking to judges and prosecutors to do the right thing” in the Times Square case. On Thursday, she said of any migrants found responsible for the assault: “Get them all and send them back.”

The attack unfolded at 8:30 pm on Jan. 27, when an officer and a lieutenant tried to break up a disorderly group outside a migrant shelter in the Candler building on 42nd Street near Seventh Avenue, the police said.

The police released a video surveillance showing the officers talking with several men. All of the parties can be seen walking away. The video then cuts to the lieutenant and one of the officers trying to arrest a man wearing a yellow jacket or a sweatshirt.

Soon, the officers are on the ground with the man in yellow. As they struggled, several other men punch, kick and shove the officers, who were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

That night, four men were arrested and charged with assault on a police officer and with gang assault. A fifth was arrested on Monday and charged with attempted assault on an officer. Two more were arrested on Wednesday and charged with felony assault and robbery, including Yohenry Brito, 24, who was identified as the man in yellow resisting arrest.

The only man for whom prosecutors sought bail was Mr. Brito, who was ordered held at Rikers Island on $15,000 bail. Prosecutors said in court papers that Mr. Brito pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in September and had two open arrest warrants.

The men who the law enforcement official said had fled the city were Yorman Reveron, 24; Darwin Andres Gomez-Izquiel, 19; Wilson Juarez, 21; and Kelvin Servita Arocha, 19. The official said they all lived in migrant shelters.

On Sunday, former President Donald J. Trump baselessly cited the attack as evidence that Latin American governments were picking criminals to send to the United States. The men accused in the attack are mostly from Venezuela.

The influx of migrants — more than 170,000 of whom entered the city since early 2022 — appears to have little impact on crime and public safety. Last year, the city saw significant drops in most violent crimes, including murders. But felony assaults rose 6 percent from 2022, and assaults on police officers rose nearly 20 percent, to 2,235.

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