Cleared of assault, ‘Soho wild man’ faces misdemeanor

Richard Pearson at an appearance in State Supreme Court last month.  Photo by Jefferson Siegel
Richard Pearson at an appearance in State Supreme Court last month. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

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 and his next court date is Sept. 4.

Pearson, 48, has been dubbed the “Soho Wild Man” by some community members who have experienced his erratic and frightening behavior.

He had been charged with second-degree assault, a felony, for allegedly throwing a brick at a person’s head on May 17. He entered the courtroom July 12 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.

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 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 a week before. 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 figure 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,” she said.

Nenov attributed the 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 council 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….

“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.”

At the July 12 hearing, Pearson, who had been shaking his leg and his head during the proceeding, 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.”

Jason Menkes, a Spring St. resident, told of how the panhandlers on Spring St. are scared of Pearson, and that he has seen four officers needed to control him.

In a phone interview three 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.”

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