Police said that 18 year old Jonathan Torres of Flushing and 17 year old Victor Hidalgo of the City Line section of Brooklyn were taken into custody yesterday and charged with gang assault in the first degree and assault in the second degree in an incident that took place just before 5 PM on November 29th in the vicinity of 64th Road and 108th Street.
The two were with an unknown number of individuals who punched, kicked and threw a 16 year old victim to the ground before fleeing the scene, according to the NYPD which is not currently classifying the incident as a hate crime.
Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal said that he has been in close contact with the NYPD and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office and that an investigation appears to indicate that the incident cannot legally be classified as a hate crime.
“Right now it seems to be more of a gang related incident and a case of mistaken identity,” Rosenthal told VIN News. “While we are disappointed, the charges filed have to be able to hold up in court and a hate crime has to meet certain legal criteria.”
Rosenthal classified the felony charges filed against Torres and Hidalgo as “extremely serious.”
Yaniv Meirov, president and CEO of Chazaq which does religious outreach within the Queens Bukharian Jewish community, identified the victim as David Paltiel.
According to Meirov, the incident stemmed from a previous altercation at nearby Forest Hills High School involving groups of Bukharian and Hispanic students, with Paltiel deliberately targeted because he was visibly Jewish.
Paltiel, a student at the nearby Yeshiva L’Maan Achai does not attend Forest Hills High School.
“Police said that they mistakenly confused him with someone that they thought was part of the gang,” said Meirov. “What we understand is that he was wearing tzitzis and a kippa and they took it out on him and beat the living daylights out of him.”
The NYPD confirmed that a second 17 year old victim was surrounded by a group of teenagers who pushed, shoved and punched him, at the same time and location, leaving him with a laceration to his lower lip. No arrests have been made yet in that incident but police said that 11 individuals are currently in custody in connection with the beating of the two teens.
A Monday night meeting had members of the local Jewish communities speaking with elected officials and law enforcement about their concerns, including an apparent lack of communication between police and community leaders.
The incidents were discussed again on Thursday night at a previously scheduled monthly Build the Block public safety meeting at the Queens Community Center hosted by the 112th Precinct.
Meirov that he is hopeful that video footage of the beating that has people shouting “kill the Jews” and “kill the Bukharians” will have the NYPD adding hate crimes charges for Torres and Hidalgo and noted that there has been increased police presence in the area in recent days.
“The precinct is doing a great job and we appreciate that, but we don’t want something like this to happen ever again,” said Meirov. “Why do we have to wait for someone to die in order for something to happen?”