'Wild Man' of SoHo's Only Crime Is Being Poor in Rich Area, Says Lawyer
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The attorney for the 6-foot-5 drifter some Downtown residents have dubbed the "Wild Man" of SoHo argued Tuesday that his client is being unfairly targeted for being destitute in a wealthy neighborhood — as a judge announced that the case against the man will be sent back to a grand jury after an earlier jury declined to indict him on assault charges.
Richard Pearson, 48, who has been cuffed by police 16 times in the past 30 years, according to court records, was arrested again last month for allegedly throwing a brick at someone at Spring and Lafayette streets, injuring the victim's arm.
He was found days later with a stash of cocaine on him, officials said — but a grand jury declined to indict Pearson on assault charges and only indicted him on drug possession charges, officials said.
The arrest sparked a flier campaign in SoHo urging residents to come forward with their fears and run-ins with Pearson in hopes of getting the judge in the case to keep the repeat offender behind bars once and for all.
The case will be re-presented to a grand jury Tuesday afternoon, said Justice Charles Solomon, who refused Pearson's court-appointed lawyer Alex Grosshtern's requests to release his client or reduce his $5,000 bail.
Solomon acknowledged he had received letters from community members regarding the case, but said "I'm not making my decision based on a letter."
Grosshtern asked Solomon to disregard the letters from the community. He said after the court appearance that the real reason people in the area dislike Pearson is because he's poor.
"He's a panhandler who's being targeted in a wealthy neighborhood," Grosshtern said, describing Pearson as lucid. "Wealthy residents of SoHo would prefer not to see him there."
Pearson has been likened to Larry Hogue, the "Wild Man of 96th Street" who haunted the Upper West Side in the 1990s.
Pearson, who wore a green sweatshirt and appeared dazed, spoke only to plead not guilty to the misdemeanor drug charge Tuesday morning.
SoHo resident Christina Nenov, a petite woman who walks using a cane, said 240-pound Pearson has repeatedly followed her, harassed her and in May, threatened to sexually assault her. She rejected Grosshtern's claim that Pearson was being discriminated against.
"This has nothing to do with money — this is a public safety issue," she said after sitting in the courtroom Tuesday wearing dark glasses for fear of being recognized by Pearson. "Richard Pearson does not discriminate. He attacks the rich and poor," she continued.
The misdemeanor drug charge against Pearson carries a maximum one-year sentence, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office. A felony assault charge would carry a maximum seven-year sentence.
State Department of Corrections records show Pearson was confined to state prison from September 2002 to September 2003 after being convicted of assault.
Pearson, who is being held on Rikers Island, is due back in court Friday.