Five men associated with a Williamsburg neighborhood watch group are accused of gang assault and other charges in the brutal beating of a 23-year-old Brooklyn man they wrongly suspected of vandalizing cars.
The men, who were part of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit in the heavily Orthodox section of the neighborhood, are accused of attacking Taj Patterson of Fort Greene in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 2013. The aspiring fashion design student, who is black, suffered a broken eye socket and torn retina from the assault.
"They came up behind me, they grabbed me, they punched me in the face, kicked me down, knocked me out," Patterson told NBC 4 New York in December, describing the assailants as a group of 15 to 20 men he described as Hasidic Jews wearing religious garb.
The attack was investigated as a hate crime, but no hate crime charges were filed.
Authorities say the suspects stopped Patterson while he was walking home along Flushing Avenue. They claimed to be investigating neighbors' reports that he had damaged cars, but didn't call police.
The reports of vandalism proved to be unfounded.
The group, which grew to about 15 members, allegedly surrounded Patterson, held him down and punched and kicked him, according to prosecutors.
The men stopped beating Patterson after passersby arrived and threatened to take pictures. The suspects ran away, leaving the victim on the ground.
The injuries Patterson suffered caused him to lose vision in his right eye.
Patterson said he had been drinking on a party bus with friends before the assault on Flushing Avenue, and has no idea why he was beat up.
"Maybe the way I dressed, I was on the block," he said. "I want these people to know they can't put their hands on anyone and get away with it, and think just because you have on certain attire you can get away with certain things. We're all equal here."
The five suspects indicted Wednesday, ages 19, 21, 28, 25 and 39, were charged with gang assault, unlawful imprisonment and menacing.
Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said in a statement: "The bedrock of the Williamsburg community is tolerance for one another. Any act of violence by any individual, against anyone, for whatever reason, is condemned in the strongest possible terms.
"We will continue to build bridges between all communities, as we have done in the past, to create a better Williamsburg for all of its residents," he said.