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String of Uptown Park Robberies Ends with Arrests of 5 Teens, Police Say

By Carolina Pichardo | December 8, 2015 12:19pm
 Two teenage girls were arrested on Monday in Fort Tryon Park after an allegeded second assault.
Two teenage girls were arrested on Monday in Fort Tryon Park after an allegeded second assault.
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Flickr/Adam Fagen

UPTOWN — Police believe the arrests of a handful teens last month have ended a mugging spree in local parks that led advocates to push for more security in Upper Manhattan green spaces, the NYPD said.

The string of violent robberies occurred between mid-October and the beginning of Novemeber in Fort Tryon, Isham and Inwood Hill parks, with police arresting one 16-year-old for his involvement in at least seven of the incidents, authorities said.

"We have not had a robbery since then," NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said at a press conference last week.

The spate of attacks led park advocates to press the City Council for more funding to staff additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers in Uptown green space at a meeting last month

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, whose district covers the parks, said that safety in parks is a priority for his office and that he’s advocated for more security at the City Council in recent months.  

“I hear residents’ concerns and I share them wholeheartedly,” said the councilman, who requested more PEP officers and parks resources during a meeting with the Committee on Parks and Recreation earlier this year. "I will continue to push the Parks Department in this area." 

Deputy Inspector Chris Morello, commanding officer of the 34th Precinct, acknowledged at the meeting last month that the NYPD's recently implemented community-policing program resulted in the reassingment of some officers from park patrols.

On Oct. 14, a Park Terrace resident was assaulted in Isham Park by two young men who fled the scene, said police, who noted that incident was not linked to the other incidents.

The pattern emerged on Friday, Oct. 23, at 3:20 p.m. in Inwood Hill Park, when two men attacked a pair of 71-year-old women, police said. The suspects grabbed one of the victims by the neck, holding an unknown metal object to her and demanding they both fork over cash. One of women handed over $80 and the other $200, police said, but no arrests were made.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, a man jogging in Fort Tryon Park at 3:45 p.m. was followed by three young men, including the 16-year-old tied to multiple muggings, Dante James. The victim was struck several times with a stick, and the attackers fled the scene with his watch, police said. 

Police arrested three suspects, including a 14- and 15-year-old boy, a day later following another pair of incidents in Fort Tryon Park.

The first occurred at 3 p.m., when James and Erick Serrano, 16, punched and kicked a 74-year-old man while taking his black messenger bag, phone and $150, the NYPD said.

At 10:45 p.m. that night, a 29-year-old man was walking in Fort Tryon Park when he was attacked from behind by Cqualiek Jarrell Cain, 16, and the two teen boys, who were all arrested about 10 minutes later, police said.

Cain was charged with robbery, assault and criminal possession of stolen property, police said. He was released on his own recognizance and his next court date is Jan. 6, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two other teens, who were not named, were charged with robbery.

The following day, on Friday, Oct. 30, a mother breastfeeding her baby in Fort Tryon Park was robbed by Juan Garcia, 31, who flashed a knife and stole her phone at 5:35 p.m., police said. He was arrested nearly two hours later and was not linked to the previous robberies, the NYPD said. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request left for comment.

The next day, police said James was involved in another robbery in Fort Tryon Park at 11 a.m, when he held up a victim with a 6-inch knife and demanded his wallet and cellphone. The victim handed over $50 and his phone before James fled toward Dyckman Street and Broadway, police said. 

The spree continued with three robberies on Monday, Nov. 2, involving James, Serrano and 21-year-old Rashad Jackson, police said. 

The first occurred in Isham Park at 6:35 p.m., when James attacked a man for his Chinese food and backpack, police said. About two hours later, a man walking in Fort Tryon Park was punched and kicked several times by James and Serrano, who took his cellphone and cash, police said. The pair was also involved in another attack, near the entrance of the park, where they flashed a knife and took the victim's cash at 9:15 p.m., police said.

James was charged with robbery in seven separate incidents, as well as one count of marijuana possession, police said. His bail was set at $7,000, the DA said. His lawyer, Karthik Ratu, declined to comment due to her client's age. 

Serrano was charged with robbery in two of the incidents, as well criminal possession of stolen property, poice said. He had his bond set at $5,000, the DA said. His attorney, Jeff Traub, said he hopes "the matter favorably works out."

Jackson was charged with robbery for one of the incidents and released on his own recognizance, according to the DA's office. His lawyer, John Hirsch, deferred questions regarding the case to a media contact for his firm.

All the defendants were scheduled to return to court on Tuesday.