Neighborhood Watch Group Members Indicted for 'Vigilante' Attack on Student

By Janet Upadhye on April 23, 2014 2:47pm | Updated on April 24, 2014 1:03pm

 Members of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit attacked Taj Patterson, 23, according to the Brooklyn DA.
Members of the Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit attacked Taj Patterson, 23, according to the Brooklyn DA.
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Facebook/Taj Patterson

FORT GREENE — Five men connected to a neighborhood safety patrol were indicted for a brutal "vigilante" attack on a fashion student in Williamsburg last year that left the victim blind in one eye, the DA's office said Wednesday.

The suspects — at least one of whom was part of neighborhood watch group the Shomrim Williamsburg Safety Patrol — attacked Fort Greene resident Taj Patterson, 23, while responding to neighbors’ unfounded reports that he had damaged cars, according to DA Kenneth Thompson's office and one of the defendant's lawyers.

The attack was initially investigated as a hate crime, but no hate crime charges were ultimately leveled.

Pinchas Braver, 19, Joseph Freid, 25, Mayer Herskovic, 21, Aharon Hollander, 28 and Abraham Winkler, 39, were allegedly part of a group of 15 people who surrounded and attacked the New York City College of Technology student, who was walking home from a night out, around 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 1.

The group told police that they detained Patterson while investigating reports of vandalism to neighborhood cars that later turned out to be false, prosecutors said. And despite the reports, the group never called police, according to the DA.

They chased Patterson down Flushing Avenue and when they caught up to him they held him down while "savagely" punching and kicking him, according to the DA.

The assault left Patterson with a fractured eye socket and torn retina that caused loss of vision in his right eye.

According to prosecutors, the beating only stopped when passersby arrived and said that they would photograph the assault taking place.

“These indictments send a clear message that acts of vigilantism are unacceptable and cannot be condoned by the NYPD," Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said.

Lawyer Michael Farkas, who is defending Hollander, said this his client is a member of the Shomrim but that all five defendants were not Shomrim members.

"We will be strongly challenging the DA’s inaccurate version of events," he said of the DA's press release, which described the defendants as all being "associated" with the "Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit".

"We think that they’ve got the most basic fact of the case wrong," Farkas added.

A spokesman for the Shomrim Williamsburg Safety Patrol denied that the suspects were affiliated with his group.

"Reports that all five of the defendants indicted today are members of our organization are not true, and the acts alleged in these indictments are contrary to our mission and our membership," Joseph Pollack said.

"The Williamsburg Shomrim Safety Patrol condemns all acts of vigilantism in any form and treats all members of the greater community with dignity and respect they all deserve," he added.

Prosecutors would not clarify whether they were referring to Shomrim when they described the defendants as being part of a the "Williamsburg Safety Patrol Unit."

The defendants face several counts of gang assault and unlawful imprisonment and could serve up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

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