Volume 81, Number 2 | June 9 - 15, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

4 arrests in ‘donut riot,’ but FIERCE blasts crackdown

By Lincoln Anderson

Police have made four arrests in connection with the May 16 incident in which at least a dozen young people, some of them transgender, invaded the Dunkin Donuts at 75 Christopher St. and wreaked mayhem. They threw two metal tables and one chair at employees and during the chaos stole pastries and drinks.

On Monday, two of the suspects, Dwayne Jones, 20, and Mark Wright, 19, were indicted for attempted assault, criminal mischief, criminal possession of a weapon (the thrown furniture) and riot. Jones was also charged with grand larceny.

A third individual was a juvenile. The fourth may have been charged with misdemeanors, according to police.

Police say, based on intelligence they received, their investigation took them to the 147 W. 24th St. location of FIERCE, the advocacy group for gay youth of color. A tip to a tips line said a few of the individuals involved attended programs at FIERCE. Word on the street that police got from members of the transgender community was the same.

To help identify the suspects, police also had still-photo images of the incident pulled from a security-camera video from Dunkin Donuts.

In the wake of a string of five muggings on Christopher St. in April, in the past couple of weeks, police have also beefed up their presence along the world-famous “gay boulevard,” with mounted police, a large police truck and floodlights at strategic spots. This quality-of-life initiative has occurred the past two summers, but police say, this summer, there’s a bit more manpower being put into it.

FIERCE fired back last week, charging that the police effort to “clean up” Christopher St. amounts to “targeting” and “harassment” of L.G.B.T.Q. youth, and has made the street unsafe for them.

In a press release, FIERCE decried the fact that Sixth Precinct detectives, on May 31, parked in an unmarked car outside their 24th St. headquarters and, without a warrant, questioned FIERCE youth members entering and exiting the building. However, according to police, they don’t need a warrant to question people in connection with an investigation.

Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo, the Sixth Precinct’s new commanding officer, said, “We received a lot of positive feedback from members of the L.G.B.T. community about our presence on Christopher St. We’ve noticed a drop in the level of minor crime and disorder on Christopher St., and so have the business owners and residents.”

Responding to FIERCE’s accusations of police harassment at the group’s headquarters, del Pozo said, “Early on in the investigation, detectives learned that the suspects in the Dunkin Donuts case were members of the transgender community. Members of that community said that some individuals attended programs at FIERCE. Members of the Sixth Precinct detectives went to the 24th St. location to ask FIERCE youth members if they had information about the case, and to look for the suspects themselves. … Police investigations go where the facts take them. What community a suspect is from is incidental.”

Asked if it was confirmed that any of the arrested individuals did, in fact, participate in FIERCE programs, del Pozo said, “We don’t know for sure if any of the suspects attended programs at FIERCE, though a tip to the Crime Stoppers line led detectives there. At this point, the arrests having been made, their involvement with FIERCE or any other community group would not be germane to the case.”

He added, “We received a huge amount of cooperation from the L.G.B.T. community during this investigation, and that’s why we were able to arrest the individuals involved.”

Krystal Portalatin, FIERCE co-director, said their 24th St. location is a “safe space” for the group and its members, who have had “various experiences with police.”

“What we would like to see happen is more safety not relying on policing as an option,” she said. “There are ways that people, particularly young people, can determine what safety looks like. We are an important stakeholder in the community. We would have liked to see more collaboration [by the police] with the community. While the Sixth Precinct might not feel that was harassment, that’s what it feels like,” she said of the detectives questioning FIERCE youth members at the Chelsea location.

She said the two indicted defendants’ names were not familiar to her.

FIERCE is trying to establish a 24-hour L.G.B.T.Q. youth center in the West Village, as part of its Our Spot (Safe Place to Organize Together) campaign. The group had hoped to get a 15,000-square-foot, 24-hour center on Pier 40, but with the pier’s redevelopment stalled due to the economy, they’re shifting their focus to land. They’re hoping someone will donate a space or that the city will help.

Portalatin said FIERCE members on Monday night observed police stopping cars and bicycles at a “checkpoint” on Christopher St. outside the Dunkin Donuts, and that this also was troubling.

“It’s not creating a community vibe or making people feel safe,” she said. “It’s making people feel unsafe.”

However, del Pozo said, “The law permits police to conduct safety checkpoints for cars and bicyclists where officers stop these vehicles at a random interval, as well as for any observed violation. Checkpoints do not apply to pedestrians, who can only be stopped for reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminality. Pedestrians can also be approached for a simple request for information, during which they are free to leave at any time.

“The car and bicycle safety checkpoints on Christopher St. are being conducted as a general quality of life measure,” he continued. He said the two checkpoints are being conducted by the police light towers for safety reasons.

The checkpoints started before del Pozo took command of the Sixth, and are run by the Manhattan South Task Force, he said.

The deputy inspector added that he has reached out to FIERCE and wants to meet with them. On Wednesday, Ellen “Manny” Vaz, FIERCE’s communications director, said Portalatin on Tuesday had been in touch with the Sixth Precinct.

“We’re working with the precinct to schedule a meeting to address the situation and our concerns,” Vaz said. “We see this as a step in the right direction and are continuing to reach out to our allies and community members.

“It’s important that we continue to create spaces where all members of the West Village community can be heard, and where we can work together to find solutions that help ensure all people’s safety.”

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