WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A homeless ex-con panhandling a few doors down from his shelter attacked the owner of a longstanding Washington Heights restaurant after the owner refused his demand for cash, police and the victim said.
Aaron Kaalund, 53, approached Peter Walsh, the 68-year-old owner of Coogan’s Restaurant, around 8 p.m. Thursday evening in front of the eatery at 4015 Broadway between West 168th and 169th streets, according to police and the Manhattan District Attorney.
Video from the scene shows Kaalund approaching Walsh and two other people standing near the restaurant’s entrance. After a few moments of talking, Kaalund shoves Walsh in the chest. The two men then drop into boxing stances and Kaalund punches Walsh in the face.
The two men continue to spar until some Coogan’s employees and bystanders pull them apart, the video shows.
According to Walsh, Kaalund threatened him after Walsh refused to give him cash.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘Give me some money,’” Walsh said. “Then he said, “How’d you like to get f----d up.”
Walsh and Dania Zapata Morel, a Coogan’s employee, said that the same man had been demanding money from customers sitting in the restaurant’s sidewalk café earlier in the evening.
“He was being very aggressive at the tables, asking people for money,” Morel said. “I said, ‘You can’t do that here.’ He said, ‘f--k you' and walked away.’”
The assault occurred about an hour later, Morel said.
Walsh said he was relieved the incident hadn’t happened to someone else.
“Thank God,” he said. “This could have been my wife. It could have been an elderly customer. We have customers from the hospital.”
Kaalund lives in the Fort Washington Men’s shelter on West 168th Street, on the same block as Coogan's, Walsh and police said.
Police arrested him at the shelter around 8:40 p.m. on July 23rd, they said.
The Department of Homeless Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident.
Kaalund has served three state prison terms for crimes including attempted robbery, grand larceny and attempted sale of a controlled substance. He was most recently released from prison in 2002 after serving a six-year sentence for attempted robbery in the first degree, according to New York State Department of Corrections records.
Kaalund was arraigned on felony assault charges in connection to the attack on Walsh and is currently being held on $10,000 bail, according to the District Attorney’s office.
He is due back in court on July 29.
Kaalund’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Walsh said he was glad he could defend himself, but isn't looking for a repeat of the incident.
“I’m 68 years old,” he said. “That’s not how I want to live.”