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Suspect Arrested On Hate Crime Charges Over Attack On Asian Woman In Manhattan

A man holds a sign after an Asian American anti-violence press conference Tuesday outside the building where a 65-year-old Asian woman was  attacked in New York City. Police said Wednesday that Brandon Elliot, 38, had been arrested and charged with crimes that include assault as a hate crime.
Kena Betancur
AFP via Getty Images
A man holds a sign after an Asian American anti-violence press conference Tuesday outside the building where a 65-year-old Asian woman was attacked in New York City. Police said Wednesday that Brandon Elliot, 38, had been arrested and charged with crimes that include assault as a hate crime.

Updated March 31, 2021 at 3:28 PM ET

Authorities have arrested a suspect in the verbal and physical assault on a 65-year-old Asian woman in New York City on Monday — an attack that was captured on surveillance video and drew widespread outrage.

Brandon Elliot, 38, was arrested Wednesday and charged with two counts of assault as a hate crime, attempted assault as a hate crime, assault and attempted assault, the New York City Police Department confirmed to NPR.

In a tweet announcing the arrest, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea described Elliot as "a parolee out on supervised release."

Elliot was arrested in 2000 for robbery and 2002 for murder, according to police. Elliot was convicted of killing his mother when he was 19 and is on lifetime parole after being released from prison in 2019.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said at a Wednesday afternoon news briefing that Elliot would be arraigned shortly in criminal court. If convicted, he said, Elliot would face up to 25 years in prison as well as "other consequences related to his lifetime parole."

Police said he was identified through "multiple tips" and apprehended at his residence, which they listed as the address of a hotel serving as a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, several blocks from the site of the attack in Midtown Manhattan.

Shea declined to go into detail about Elliot's criminal history, citing the ongoing investigation. He said he believed "anyone given a second chance deserves a second chance" but noted that he has seen recidivists "at times" given too many chances.

"What I said this morning about this particular case was, for the life of me, I don't understand why we are releasing or pushing people out of prison, not to give them second chances but to put them into homeless facilities, or shelters or in this case a hotel, and expect good outcomes out of that," Shea said. "We need real opportunities, we need real safety nets, we need to work with nonprofits and hold them accountable and replicate the ones that are successful. But just pushing people out, and to think that we're doing them a good deed, I think is misguided. "

The assault took place outside an apartment building, in broad daylight, as the woman walked to church just before noon Monday.

Surveillance video shows a man kicking the woman to the ground, stomping on her head and upper body several times and casually walking away as she remained on the sidewalk. Police have said that he made "anti-Asian statements" during the assault, including reportedly telling her that "you don't belong here."

Shea described the assault as a "completely unprovoked, violent attack on an innocent, defenseless woman," adding, "You've all seen the video."

Vance added, "Let me join the commissioner in being clear. This brave woman belongs here. Asian American New Yorkers belong here. Everyone belongs here."

The unnamed victim was hospitalized at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan with a fractured pelvis and head contusion, according to media reports. A hospital official confirmed to NPR that she was discharged on Tuesday.

The New York Times has identified her as Vilma Kari, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines several decades ago.

The video also appears to show apartment staff watching the attack without intervening, then closing the door on the woman as she attempted to stand up.

The Brodsky Organization, which manages the building, said in a statement that it is working with Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, which represents the door staff, to investigate the response of the two lobby staffers, who have been suspended.

In a statement condemning the attack, Local 32BJ President Kyle Bragg said Tuesday, "The information we have at the moment is that the door staff ... called for help immediately," and he urged the public to "avoid a rush to judgment while the facts are determined."

Case detective Michael Rodriguez told reporters at the briefing that no 911 calls had been made in the case, and officers had come upon the woman while patrolling the area.

The apparent inaction of multiple bystanders as shown on the video clip struck a nerve, with social media users and public officials speaking out in shock and horror.

"The reports of a brutal assault on an Asian American woman in Midtown are absolutely horrifying and repugnant," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. "We are all New Yorkers — no matter how we look or what language we speak — and we must always look out for one another and help those who need it."

Cuomo also directed the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to assist the NYPD in its investigation.

Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate who is running for New York City mayor, said in an interview with CNN that he believed bystanders could have "done a lot of good" by interrupting the attack or seeking medical attention for the woman. He called on viewers to take action if they are ever in a similar situation.

"That has to be the message to people in New York City and really everywhere around the country, that if you see something, you have to do something," he said. "And I was in a situation like this not that long ago — if one person acts, then other people will act along with them. But a lot of folks need someone to lead the way."

Officials at the briefing noted that members of the public aided in the search to identify the suspect, with many calling the NYPD Crime Stoppershotline and engaging with police posts on Twitter.

They also advised any New Yorkers who happen to witness such attacks to call 911 or the anonymous tip line, ideally with a good description of a perpetrator. They warned against getting physical with an assailant and noted that in some cases, people who have pulled out their cameras to record a scene have been turned on themselves as a result.

The assault is one of several recent high-profile attacks that have targeted Asian Americans in New York and across the country. Such attacks have risen dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year, which advocates and experts attribute in large part to xenophobic rhetoric.

"There is no place for these atrocious acts of anti-Asian violence in New York, particularly as the AAPI community is still grieving, and still in pain following the heinous attack by the gunman in Georgia earlier this month," Vance said, referring to a series of shootings at three Atlanta-area spas that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

Vance said Wednesday said there are more than a dozen open cases and investigations into incidents targeting New York's Asian American and Pacific Islander community this year alone.

Citing a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, New York police said last week that it will increase outreach and patrols in Asian communities, including the use of undercover officers, in an effort to prevent and disrupt attacks.

At the federal level, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced a half-dozen actions aimed at addressing the rise in attacks and harassment targeted at Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the United States.

"Across our nation, an outpouring of grief and outrage continues at the horrific violence and xenophobia perpetrated against Asian American communities, especially Asian American women and girls," the White House said in a statement. "As President Biden said during his first prime-time address, anti-Asian violence and xenophobia is wrong, it's un-American, and it must stop."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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