Taj Patterson’s Federal Lawsuit Nixed

Victim in brutal Williamsburg attack can’t pursue city, private patrol

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE

Community News Group

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought against New York City, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol (WSP), and members of that patrol over a 2013 assault on a black gay man that left him blind in one eye.

Taj Patterson, now 28, was attacked by roughly 20 members of the WSP as he was walking home from a party on December 1, 2013. He sued the WSP, members of the patrol, and the city in the federal and state courts. His argument is that because the city funds the patrol and has given the patrol other benefits, the WSP is effectively an adjunct of the NYPD but its members have never been adequately trained. Given the political power of the Orthodox Jewish community, which established the patrol, the patrol is allowed to operate outside the law with impunity, Patterson has argued.

A Brooklyn district court dismissed his case last year before the parties had proceeded to discovery, saying that Patterson failed to state a claim under federal law and that the relationship between the city and the WSP did not permit Patterson to implicate the city in the patrol’s actions. Patterson appealed and argued before a federal appeals court on March 13.

“Patterson also argues that he plausibly alleged a claim that the City, through the NYPD, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by giving preferential treatment to the Orthodox Jewish community and thereby creating the conditions that resulted in his assault,” the three-judge appeals panel wrote in a March 19 ruling. “In addition, Patterson argues in his reply brief that he plausibly alleged that the City violated the Fourth Amendment by deliberately failing to train the WSP Defendants. Because Patterson did not raise this argument in his opening brief, it is abandoned. Upon review of the record on appeal, we reject these arguments and affirm the judgment substantially for reasons stated by the District Court in its memoranda and orders of August 9, 2017 and February 14, 2018.”

Two men — Pinchas Braver and Abraham Winkler — pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the attack and were sentenced to three years on probation and 150 hours of community service. Charges against another two — Aharon Hollender and Joseph Fried — were dismissed.

A fifth man, Mayer Herskovic, went to trial and was convicted of second-degree assault, first-degree unlawful imprisonment, and menacing in 2016. He was sentenced to four years in prison and was remanded to begin serving his sentence, but a state appeals judge released him within hours. In 2018, a state appeals court concluded that the evidence against Herskovic “was legally sufficient to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” but chose to exercise “our independent factual review power.” The four-judge panel concluded “that the verdict of guilt was against the weight of the evidence.” Herskovic was convicted using DNA evidence.

City Councilmember Steve Levin, who is a member of that body’s Progressive Caucus and an LGBTQ community supporter, has given at least $55,500 in Council discretionary funds to the WSP since 2016. He gave the WSP $9,000 in 2011. Levin represents Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and other Brooklyn neighborhoods. Levin has said that the WSP did not attack Patterson.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a longstanding relationship with the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn. While the city’s Law Department wrote in federal court filings that Patterson was attacked by a “hate-filled mob,” it also wrote that the attackers “allegedly belonged” to “an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood safety patrol.”

The state lawsuit, which is ongoing, names the WSP, Winkler, Herskovic, Braver, Hollender, and Fried. Two defendants in that lawsuit — Fried and Herskovic — have moved to have the default judgments against them vacated, after they did not appear in court. Argument on that matter is scheduled for April 19 in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Updated 5:37 pm, March 26, 2019

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