By Carla Zanoni
INWOOD — A woman who told police in February that she was the victim of an attempted rape in Inwood Hill Park has alleged that precinct officers had improperly downgraded her case to "forcible touching," a misdemeanor, at the time of the crime.
It was only the day after the February 17 incident that the case was reclassified as attempted rape — a felony — the alleged victim, Inwood resident Debbie Nathan, says.
The information about the crime's reclassification from misdemeanor to felony emerged on the heels of a Village Voice article reporting that police officers in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn are being told by supervisors to downgrade crime reports from felonies to misdemeanors, possibly in an effort to keep Compstat ratings low and mask rising crime statistics.
A high-ranking police official in Inwood acknowledged shortly after the attempted rape was reported that there were unanswered questions about the incident that would be dealt with in an internal police investigation, but did not address what the specific issues were.
“Those kinds of situations thankfully don’t happen often, but when they do happen, they should be handled better,” Deputy Inspector Andrew Capul said at a community meeting on February 21.
“We are conducting a little more detailed investigation and some people may be reprimanded as a result,” he added.
The alleged victim reported to police that she was exercising in a well-lit and well-traveled area of Inwood Hill Park at about 5:45 p.m. when a large man who said he wanted to have sex with her attacked her from behind and dragged her into a nearby wooded area. As he pushed her further into the woods he masturbated against her, then released her and escaped into the woods.
Nathan told the Inwood Safety Patrol, a web-based community group, that after the assault she called 911 twice, once to report the crime and the next to explain that she was leaving the park after waiting 45 minutes for police to arrive. Shortly after the second call to 911, an operator called Nathan back and asked when the assault had taken place, explaining that the operator who took the original call thought the assault had occurred the day before.
Approximately two hours after the incident, Nathan said, six officers appeared at her home and questioned her about the crime.
After 90 minutes, Nathan said police told her that after conferring with the Special Victims Unit, they were ready to classify the crime as forcible touching.
Nathan suggested that the officers might have wanted to minimize the incident to draw attention away from her accusation that it was two hours before the police responded to her 911 calls.