Volume 75, Number 41 | March 1 -7 2006

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Clockwise from top: A small tree with branches broken off by the W. 15th St. entrance to Union Square Park; a damaged tree by the E. 15th St. entrance to the park; a holly bush with branches stripped in the Veterans’ Triangle Park at the southeast corner of Union Square.

Union Square Park tree attacker is caught in act

By lLncoln Anderson

After staking out Union Square Park at night over several days, undercover Parks Enforcement Patrol officers arrested a man early on the morning of Feb. 23 who they said had wreaked extensive damage on the park’s trees and bushes over a period of at least three weeks.

“Essentially, he was caught in the process of literally ripping branches off trees and shredding bushes with his bare hands,” said Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesperson. The arrests were made by PEP Sergeants Edwin Falcon and Derek Walther.

The Parks Department says the damage done by the suspect, identified as David Sasson, 34, amounts to approximately $24,000. Included among the attacked foliage, mostly located in and around the park’s southern end, are 23 hydrangea bushes, 12 red-stemmed dogwoods, 10 holly bushes, seven rose of Sharons, three butterfly bushes, a Chinese dogwood, a magnolia tree and more than 20 street and ornamental trees.

The damage is so significant that most of the trees and plants will need to be replaced, according to Parks.

An eyewitness reported spotting Sasson allegedly vandalizing trees on Feb. 19, after which the stakeout began. Sasson was arrested at 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 in front of 5 Union Square W.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Sasson told the arresting PEP’s, “All trees and nests must die and be controlled. I did it. I did all of them…. I have done this to thousands of trees.”

Jennifer Kushner, a D.A. spokesperson, said Sasson was charged with criminal mischief in the second degree, a felony, and destruction or abuse of trees, a misdemeanor. The first charge carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in jail, while the maximum penalty on the second charge is one year in jail and/or $15,000.

Kushner said Sasson was remanded for a psychiatric evaluation and remains in custody. His next court date is March 27. The D.A.’s office said Sasson gave his address as 6 E. 14th St.

However, at that address, at the southeast corner of 14th St. and Fifth Ave., are a number of ground-floor commercial properties in a nonresidential New School University building.

A New School spokesperson said, “I’m delighted to say that the Tree Man is not one of our students. Our building’s address is 65 Fifth Ave.”

Althea Drysdale, Sasson’s appointed attorney, did not return calls for comment.

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