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BY HEATHER DUBIN | Second-degree assault charges are no longer on the table for Richard Pearson, a mentally ill man accused of waging a reign of terror on the streets of Soho by verbally and physically harassing residents and merchants. After two grand juries failed to indict Pearson on assault, the prosecution opted not to pursue a third presentation to a grand jury, and informed Judge Charles Solomon of this in State Supreme Court on July 19.
Both grand juries have indicted Pearson for possession of a narcotic, a misdemeanor. He was arraigned in State Supreme Court on July 12 for possession of cocaine.
Pearson, 48, has been dubbed the “Soho Wild Man” by some community members who have experienced his erratic and frightening behavior.
He is charged with second-degree assault, a felony, for allegedly throwing a brick at a person’s head on May 17. He entered the courtroom wearing a white T-shirt, and his hair had been shaved off. Once Pearson, 6 foot 5 inches tall and 240 pounds, was seated at a table next to his attorney, Alex Grosshtern, three officers moved in to stand close behind him.
“At least for now there are no additional changes,” said Solomon, and called for pretrial motions to be filed by July 23.
Grosshtern appealed for Pearson’s release from jail.
“This is a misdemeanor, an ordinary crime — minus all the hoopla around this case,” he said. “The time he’s had in, almost two months, would generally be time served.”
Assistant District Attorney James Zaleta countered by referring to Pearson’s character and criminal history, which includes six convictions.
“He has no fixed address, and his mental issue is an issue,” Zaleta added.
Additionally, the recommended jail time for a misdemeanor, Zaleta argued, is one year.
Solomon reduced bail from $7,500 bond to $5,000 bond, or as an alternative, $5,000 cash to $3,500 cash. The case was adjourned to July 30 at 3 p.m.
“The D.A.’s Office has finally given up on pressing felony charges,” Grosshtern said. “After unjustified repeated attempts by the D.A.’s Office to indict, it is now clear that the evidence was always insufficient.”
Speculating as to why two grand juries did not indict on the assault charges, the attorney said, “There may have been a credibility issue with the witness, which Pearson has been saying all along.”
Unable to divulge the facts, since grand jury proceedings are secret, Grosshtern merely said of the witness, “According to my client, it is also someone without a permanent address.”
Pearson, who nodded his head at certain points during the case, was decidedly calmer than his previous court appearance on July 12. Grosshtern acknowledged the court cannot mandate medicines, but, he said, “Maybe on Riker’s they could be sustaining him and put him on something.”
Five people had turned out for Pearson’s July 12 court date, but only two members of the Spring St. community were present in the courtroom on July 19.
“The word ‘hoopla’? I found it quite offensive,” said Minerva Durham, owner of Spring Studio, a figurative drawing studio. “We have created hoopla around a case because a man has terrorized the neighborhood,” she said. “The way the lawyer is defending this man is to attack us.”
Christina Nenov, who lives on Spring St. was extremely upset at the development.
“It’s highly alarming that this man may be allowed to come back and torment the community.”
Nenov attributed last Friday’s low turnout to the fact that people in the neighborhood had to be at work. But she said many people had e-mailed her for updates on the case. And 50 people turned out for a Fifth Precinct Community Council meeting in May to express their concerns about Pearson.
“There is a false sense of calm right now,” she said.
Citing ongoing questions about the Police Department’s CompStat figures — specifically, underreporting of crimes — Nenov spoke about police protocol involving Pearson.
She said there is “a very long list of people that have had crimes committed against them [by Pearson],” but that “90 percent of police in these cases haven’t reported anything on Spring St. They come, and they walk [Pearson] down the street,” she said.
Nenov referred to the May community Ccouncil meeting, where a police officer explained to the public how to ensure a better response.
“Get the cop’s name, the badge number, and insist they write the complaint,” the officer advised.
Nenov identified the witness to Pearson’s alleged assault as Willie Walker,
“ ‘Sunny,’ we call him. He’s a part-time super, he lives Uptown.
“Everybody knows him, which further discredits Richard Pearson’s lawyer’s claim that this is a class situation,” she said. “People like him because he’s cheerful, and that’s why his nickname is Sunny.”
Nenov said she thought Walker was the person hit with a brick by Pearson, and that his arm had been hurt.
“He’s usually working the corner Monday through Friday,” she said. “He’s a very nice man, and I don’t know anything about his background, but whatever it is, no one deserves to be hit with a brick.”
On July 12, Solomon waited until 11:30 a.m. as members of the Spring St. community trickled in. The case had been represented to a second grand jury on June 28, and Pearson pled not guilty to the drug charge indictment.
Pearson has testified before three grand juries. But Grosshtern succeeded in stopping the second one.
“We were ambushed,” he said, claiming the prosecution asked questions about other incidents, and wanted to add charges he was not made aware of.
“We went to the judge, the prosecution conceded, and it started all over again,” Grosshtern said.
The defense attorney protested a third presentation to a grand jury, and asked for either Pearson’s release or a change in the amount of bail, which he called excessive at $5,000. Solomon denied a bail change. The discussion then became heated over the two separate grand juries’ dismissal of the assault charges.
Pearson, who had been shaking his leg and his head during the hearing, grew more agitated and yelled something. The bailiff got up from his desk and joined the three other officers who were surrounding Pearson.
In an even tone, the judge admonished Pearson, and told him he had to behave in court.
“You may not be satisfied with some of the decisions,” he said, “but you have to respect this is a courtroom.”
Pearson then yelled obscenities as he was led from the courtroom by the officers, his shouts still audible after the door to a corridor lined with jail cells shut behind them. There was also the sound of something being kicked.
“That’s what we have to live with, and he’s on the street,” said Durham, who was present in the courtroom.
She recalled one experience with Pearson as she was holding a life-drawing art class outside in Petrosino Square. A clothed male model was posing. Durham said Pearson interrupted the class by urinating on the ground near the model, and also pushed an old man. Durham called police, but said their response time was slow. They didn’t file charges, and no arrest was made.
“Police told our model, ‘Touch him [Pearson], and we’ll arrest you,’ ”she said. “He’s terrifying the neighborhood.”
According to Durham, Pearson sneered to the model, an actor, “My penis is larger than yours.” The actor later told Durham that Pearson clearly wants to be the center of attention.
Jason Menkes, a Spring St. resident, also shared stories about Pearson.
“I’m glad the judge is taking in his history of violence,” he said. “He’s mentally ill, and he needs long-term care. It should be addressed to some degree.”
Menkes told of how the panhandlers on Spring St. are scared of Pearson, and that he has seen four officers needed to control him.
“He’ll just lie down on the sidewalk and you have to walk around him,” he said.
In a phone interview two weeks ago, Grosshtern defended Pearson to Soho residents.
“He’s a sight they’d rather not see,” he said. “It’s a wealthy area. His only crime — he’s poor and a panhandler in a wealthy neighborhood.”