BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Captain Stephen Spataro, the commander of Greenwich Village’s 6th Precinct, gave The Village Sun more details on a recent assault of a Parks Department worker in Washington Square Park that was allegedly sparked by a dispute over a pot seller’s table.
The incident occurred on Fri., July 8, around 5 p.m., according to police.
“A Parks maintenance supervisor went to take possession of an unattended table,” Spataro said. “One of the the weed dealers came and tried to take it [back]. They scuffled over the table. The Parks worker got the better of him.”
But shortly afterward the dealer went and got a sidekick and the two of them then ganged up on the Parks worker near the park building. They knocked him to the ground — and kicked and stomped him.
“It’s very dangerous,” the captain noted of when a victim is down in a vulnerable position and being stomped. “It could have been worse.”
The worker wound up in the hospital with a broken nose and facial wounds that required 16 stitches to close. Spataro said the victim’s facial injuries weren’t from being slashed but from being punched.
After the beatdown, the assailants fled, but returned to the park a few hours later — “presumably to deal,” Spataro said — and one of them was arrested. The other male came back to the park the following day, when he was also nabbed by cops.
Police initially charged the pair — both 21-year-olds from Brooklyn — with felony assault. But Spataro said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg subsequently lowered the charges to misdemeanor assault, which the captain disagreed with.
“They didn’t think the injuries were severe enough,” Spataro said of prosecutors. “A broken nose can go either way,” he conceded, depending on whether there is “disfigurement or a permanent scar. But the sutures — 16 sutures — by traditional definition is a felony assault.”
Meanwhile, Spataro is eager for New York State to start opening legal cannabis dispensaries to replace the “gray market” dealing currently popping up everywhere, including in places like Washington Square Park. As he noted, the coordination of the legalization of recreational marijuana and the timing of the opening of the dispensaries is off “by years.” In short, as he put it, the state has “legalized drugs [pot] — but not the means to distribute it.”
“The dealing invites violence,” he contended, “because it brings a lot of cash.”
Previously, Spataro told The Village Sun about two incidents earlier this year in which robbers stuck up pot dealers in the park at gunpoint.
A Parks Enforcement Police officer recently told The Village Sun that, in the wake of the worker being attacked, the Parks Department had beefed up the number of the green-uniformed PEP officers patrolling in the park. But Spataro said Parks had already started doing that prior to the incident, and had also had been sending officers from its “anti-vending unit” into the park, as well.
The iconic Greenwich Village open space has seen an explosion of vending over the past year, from full-on clothes racks to an array of tables filled with weed. Spataro doesn’t consider those selling pot to be vendors, though, but “dealers” since, as he pointed out, it’s still currently illegal to sell marijuana.
In general, it’s illegal to vend in the park. Of the distinction betwen selling pot or clothes, the captain said, “It’s separate — but none of them are legal.”
It is legal, however, to vend art and printed matter in the park. Though as Robert Lederman of Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics (A.R.T.I.S.T.) has explained, due to stringent park rules on where vendors can set up — having to keep a certain distance from benches and monuments and the like — it’s actually technically almost impossible for anyone to vend legally in Washington Square Park.
The captain said police were glad they were able to arrest the two suspects in the attack on the park worker.
“We take it very seriously,” he said. “No one should have to come to work and fear for their safety for doing their jobs. We were pleased we were able to apprehend them quickly.”