Following the vicious beating of a Hispanic man who was walking on the railroad tracks in Riverhead Sunday afternoon, Riverhead officials say they are concerned about “a pattern” of attacks on Hispanic men in the community.
The Riverhead police department is still compiling data, Police Chief David Hegermiller said today. “But I can say it happens too frequently,” Hegermiller said.
In Sunday’s attack, the victim, described by police as a 33-year-old Hispanic male, suffered a fractured skull and other injuries requiring admission to Stony Brook University Hospital’s critical care center. He was found lying on the ground, bleeding heavily from the face and head, on the side of a West Main Street gas station. He reported being robbed and beaten, possibly with a tree branch, by two or three black males. He was robbed of $400 in cash.
On March 17, a Hispanic male reported being robbed at gunpoint by four unknown men on Griffing Avenue, who punched him several times and stole $400 in cash.
On Feb. 21, a 52-year-old Hispanic man was found lying in the roadway at the intersection of Pulaski Street and Marcy Avenue, with head and face injuries consistent with a physical assault.
On Jan. 24, a 26-year-old Hispanic man was beaten with a large rock on Sweezy Avenue at 6:15 in the morning, as he walked to work. He suffered a fractured skull and a facial cut requiring six stitches. One of his attackers brandished a handgun, the victim told police. They did not get any money before fleeing on foot.
At 10 p.m. that night, a 33-year-old Hispanic man was mugged a few blocks away on Griffing Avenue near the railroad crossing. He was beaten with the butt of a handgun and was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment. Two men were involved in the attack; they fled on foot without getting any money from the victim.
A 20-year-old homeless man was arrested and charged in the Sweezy Avenue attack. Monwell Wright — who was already facing a previous charge of possession of stolen property in connection with an early morning vehicle theft on Jan. 2, outside an Osborn Avenue deli located alongside the railroad tracks — was charged with felony assault and attempted robbery. Because he faced felony charges, his case was moved to Suffolk County Criminal Court from Riverhead Justice Court.
In the past month, a Hispanic male, who was intoxicated, “got rolled” and was thrown into a Dumpster, Hegermiller said. He called police from inside the Dumpster, the chief said. That incident also took place in the vicinity of Griffing Avenue, he said.
“This pattern is something that’s worried me for a while,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a phone interview yesterday. He said he met with the police chief first thing yesterday morning.
Walter visited Sr. Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Hispanic Apostolate today in her office.
“I invited town officials and police to come to the Spanish Mass [held at St. John’s every Sunday evening] to talk to the community,” Smyth said, noting that on a typical Sunday 700 to 800 people attend the Mass.
“People do get jumped for money,” Smyth said. “People also have money stolen from their homes.” One woman had $15,000 in cash stolen from her home, Smyth said.
“People do not use banks to the extent that they should be using them,” she said. “I tell them all the time, opening an account is simple. You need a passport and a taxpayer ID number, which most people have,” Smyth said. She has even had bank representatives come to the church to open up bank accounts for the immigrants.
There are cultural reasons for the community’s preference for cash and also reasons having to do with education and literacy. “They don’t always know how to write checks,” she said. “Many people come in here [to her downtown Riverhead office] seeking help with writing checks.”
“The Hispanic population needs to be more vigilant,” the town supervisor said yesterday. “We need to make it understood: You should not be walking in desolate areas, like the train tracks. You should not be walking alone, especially late at night,” Walter said.
“Unfortunately they are easy targets, known to often be carrying cash,” he said.
“This is a Riverhead for all, not just for some. We won’t tolerate this,” the supervisor said.
Hegermiller noted he has spoken to state police about it to discuss coordinating efforts.
The police will speak to the parishioners at St. John’s Spanish Mass, most likely the week after Easter Sunday, Walter said. He said he will attempt to connect with leaders of other religious ministries working in the Hispanic community.
“We will do everything we can to get the word out,” Walter said. “I don’t want to have anyone else hurt.”
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