SOHO — In the weeks before Richard Pearson stabbed a street vendor in the chest with a pair of scissors, the homeless man's behavior had grown increasingly erratic, alarming residents who had nicknamed him the "Wild Man of SoHo," the victim and locals said.
Baare Batchiri, 60, who sold cellphone accessories from a table on Broadway until Pearson attacked him and punctured his lung Monday morning, described Pearson, 49, as "crazy" and "dangerous" and said he had recently grown more hostile.
Batchiri, a Brooklyn resident, used to regularly give the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Pearson a dollar to buy coffee. But Pearson had recently started turning him down, Batchiri said.
“Like two weeks ago, whenever you give him money like, ‘Take a dollar bro,’ he said ‘No, no. I don’t want it,” Batchiri said from his bed in Bellevue Hospital, where he winced between breaths. "You don't play [with] him," he added.
Batchiri had started to avoid Pearson, but at 11:15 a.m. Monday, Pearson approached Batchiri's table in front of the Ricky's beauty supply store at 590 Broadway and tried to pick a fight, the vendor said.
"He tried to curse me," Batchiri said, adding that Pearson yelled insults about Africa to Batchiri, who hails from Niger.
Pearson then thrust a pair of scissors into the right side of Batchiri's chest and fled as the vendor gasped, he said.
Officers caught Pearson in a nearby subway station and he was charged with attempted murder, assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
Local residents and workers had long worried that Pearson posed a danger to the neighborhood, reporting that he shouted obscenities at passersby and harassed street vendors and businesses. He had been arrested more than a dozen times on assault, drug and other charges, records show.
The concerns boiled over in May 2013, when Pearson was accused of throwing a brick at someone and arrested on drug possession charges. Residents mobilized to urge authorities to keep him locked up until he was no longer a threat to the public.
“If someone is a known danger, they have a responsibility to protect [people],” said Christina Nenov, a SoHo resident who said that Pearson had repeatedly harassed her and that she had reached out to the police, the local community board and elected officials for help.
Pearson was sentenced to 10 months in jail and was released last December, records show.
He was arrested again in January for jumping a turnstile in the 1 train station at Broadway and West 145th Street, and then in March for harassing a female MTA employee working in a booth of the Broadway-Lafayette subway station, according to court records.
Pearson was most recently released from jail on April 14, records show.
After this week's attack, he was ordered held without bail.
Nenov and others said Pearson never should have been back on the streets and said they believed he needs mental health services.
“He’s a dangerous character,” said Marty Freedman, a street vendor on Lafayette Street who called Pearson intimidating and hostile.
Mary Beth Anderson, program director of the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project, said the state and NYPD have safety nets to help people with mental illness before they harm themselves or others.
State law allows courts to order an evaluation for commitment to a psychiatric hospital, and police can detain people and send them to a hospital for observation if they act in a way that is "inconsistent with personal safety or public safety," Anderson said.
Red flags include erratic behavior or an overly intense disposition, Anderson said.
There are also homeless outreach programs designed to connect people with shelters, where they can access the mental health services they need, Anderson said.
In cases similar to Pearson’s, “what you always hope is they don’t escalate into anything really serious," she said.
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials said they could not comment on whether Pearson had received mental health services.
Department of Correction officials did not respond to inquiries, and a spokesman for New York's courts did not respond to a request for comment.
Sean Sweeney, the executive director of the SoHo Alliance, called Pearson a “ticking time bomb" who was locked in a "revolving door" pattern of arrests, jail time and releases.
“That doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.
His lawyer did not return calls for comment.