NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – From the subway to the streets, NYPD data show that crime has increased by more than 6% in New York City compared to last year.
In some of the unprovoked attacks, we have learned that the suspect has a criminal past, with victims having sounded the alarm before.
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CBS2’s Lisa Rozner examines the worrying pattern.
Scarlett Garcia, 2, was adorable social back in August, a few days after surveillance video showed 32-year-old Shoshannah Johnson allegedly pushing her to the ground and jumping away.
But months later, her mother says that even though she did not get a permanent injury, she has sustained an emotional one.
“She is afraid of getting close to new people or, for example, trying to interact with people,” said mother Sahara Bernard. “She will run and scream.”
In November, Johnson was arrested after Scarlett’s mother saw her on the street.
But she was released as the charges, including assault and endangering a child’s welfare, do not qualify for bail. Johnson was already out on several judge orders, including allegedly hitting a passerby in the face weeks earlier and possession and sale of cocaine.
Rozner was there when she finally appeared in court. Johnson’s uncle and lawyer would not speak to Rozner.
“You do not want to talk about anything you have done to try to help?” asked Rozner.
Johnson’s attorney said they had no comment.
A spokesman for the legal aid says the case has now been transferred to a mental health court. But why was that step not taken before?
Former prosecutor Hermann Walz of CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice is not involved in the case, but offered this:
“Our system is not designed to say, ‘How do we help people?'” Walz said. “So many cases are: ‘How do I just get rid of them?’ Right? If you are not shot, or no gun or anything, or how do I get away – especially in the event of a misdemeanor. “
In the past year, several people who have been charged with shocking, seemingly unprovoked attacks have previously been released without mandate treatment. In October, Anthonia Egegbara, diagnosed with schizophrenia, allegedly pushed a passenger into a subway train in motion in Times Square. Months earlier, she had allegedly beaten Jasmine Robles in a train. It is one of seven arrests since 2018.
In August, Aaron Garcia allegedly used an ax to attack a man using an ATM in the center. He had been the subject of several emotionally disturbed personal calls and had judge orders for assault.
In May, Alexander Wright allegedly beat an Asian woman in Chinatown, leaving her unconscious. His more than 40 arrests go back more than three decades. A few days before the assault, he pleaded guilty to throwing hot coffee in the face of a traffic officer. His lawyer says he has a diagnosed mental illness.
“When he gets discharged, he gets a MetroCard and like a week’s prescription,” said Casey Dalporto of New York County Defender Services.
Dalporto admits from there that it is almost impossible for him to go from homeless to house. Wright is now on Rikers Island and is receiving medication but is due to be released again in February. The Manhattan District Attorney has denied requests for release pending a treatment program.
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“He’s someone who would actually follow along. He’s never had that opportunity before,” said Marie Calvert-Killbane, of New York County Defender Services.
In Manhattan, misdemeanors are not eligible for a mental health court ordering longer treatment. Public defenders say the few cases that qualify must go through a rigorous assessment process.
“It takes an average of 331 days for anyone to be admitted to a mental health court at all,” said public defender Eliza Orlins.
By 2020, there were more than 20,000 lawsuits in New York County. Only four came to court for mental health.
Other neighborhoods see a little more: 51 in the Bronx and 12 in Queens.
“Fifty percent of the population on Rikers Island live with a mental illness. Fifty percent of the population on Rikers Island live with a substance abuse disorder,” said Jeffrey Berman of the Legal Aid Society.
Prosecutors decide if cases are to be heard in mental health court. That’s why some state legislators are advocating for the “Treatment Not Prison Act,” which would instead give judges discretion to order judicial diversion programs.
Elected Mayor Eric Adams wants to add criteria for judges to withhold bail if defendants have a history of violent crime or pose an imminent threat.
Upcoming Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. worries that there is no objective way to predict who is dangerous so early in a case.
For example, he says that a 2014 report found in Manhattan, “at the bail stage of offenses, black defendants were 20% more likely to be detained than whites in similar locations.”
“Danger is often associated with color, and we’ve seen it unfold throughout history, you know, both nationally and locally,” Bragg said.
Rozner spoke with former prosecutor Alisa Heydari, who is deputy director at the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at CUNY John Jay.
“Why does it take almost anyone to be killed to get them behind bars or take them away from society?” asked Rozner.
“Again, I think it’s going to resources … You’ll often have a prosecutor – and I’ve had this situation – where you see someone who’s really dangerous or their story is disturbing, so you’re worried. but the only crime you have in front of you is a misdemeanor assault, ”Heydari said.
So far, Egegbara and Garcia remain in the Rikers and await the results of exams to determine if they are fit to be convicted.
Johnson, who is homeless, is out. Bernard has an order for protection against her, but fears it is not enough.
“I was relieved until I got the phone call from the prosecution,” Bernard said.
And without supportive housing and expanded psychiatric services, public defenders say using Rikers alone to provide treatment is a prescription for relapse.
Adams supports increased services for mental health and substance abuse and is in favor of converting closed outlying hotels into supportive housing.
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As for the right to mental health, the upcoming Manhattan DA says he is working with clinicians to ensure more cases get a chance to be heard there.