Soho man frightens neighbors, frustrates cops

At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Richard Pearson is an intimidating presence, people say.
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Richard Pearson is an intimidating presence, people say.

BY HEATHER DUBIN | Residents and merchants from around Spring St. in Soho and Nolita turned out in force at last week’s Fifth Precinct Community Council meeting to voice concern about Richard Pearson, a mentally ill man who, they say, has verbally and physically assaulted pedestrians and retailers alike.

Pearson is currently in jail after being arrested for throwing a brick at a person’s head two weeks ago, for which he was charged with assault in the second degree, a felony.

About 50 people, including representatives for state Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, were there to address the issue of Pearson, and appealed to police to keep him off the streets.

Deputy Inspector Gerard Dowling, the Fifth Precinct’s commanding officer, described Pearson as, “6 feet 4 inches…and mentally unstable.”

Pearson has been arrested 21 times, with his first arrest on Jan. 28, 1983, for burglary.

According to Dowling, Pearson has committed numerous offenses around Spring St., and has been labeled by police as an emotionally disturbed person, or E.D.P.

Several community members spoke, including Christina Nenov, who lives on Spring St. She pleaded with officers for protection from Pearson, noting she had called 911 in the past after he prevented her from leaving a store.

“I’m disabled, I can’t run, and he was threatening me with sexual assault,” she said.

“It’s Crosby St., it’s tourists, it’s children, it’s Lafayette St. — this man has been a predator in my neighborhood,” she said.

Hemal Sheth, manager of Lafayette Smoke Shop, said he has called the police on Pearson 10 to 12 times over the past year.

“We have an order of protection [against Pearson] for assault in the third degree,” Sheth said. “He entered the store, broke newsstands, pushed me and tried to hit me.”

When the protection order expired, Pearson returned to the store on that very day.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Sheth added.

Neighbors also claim Pearson has been physically violent with people on the street prior to the recent brick incident.

“He will harm people, he cannot control himself, and he’s a known danger,” Nenov stressed.

Peter Chong, a crime prevention officer, injured his shoulder while struggling with Pearson to get him into an ambulance.

“Dealing with him is not like dealing with anyone else,” he said.

The limits of police response are also an issue.

“The cops come, but an officer told me, ‘Well, I didn’t see it, therefore, we can’t really do anything,’” said Nenov.

One officer advised Sheth to call police when Pearson entered the store, and they would pick him up for trespassing.

“By the time you guys come — 45 minutes to an hour later — he’s gone,” Sheth replied.

Since he is considered an E.D.P., Pearson receives different legal and medical treatment.

“By law, if you’re mentally unfit and charged with a misdemeanor, your charges are dismissed,” said Assistant District Attorney Kaitrin Roberts. “There is a complicated analysis when the police can make arrests.”

When an E.D.P. is brought to a hospital, New York State law only allows the person to be committed if he is a danger to himself or others, or if a psychiatrist determines he needs to be involuntarily committed.

“Just because they’re outside ranting and raving, we can’t force them to go to the hospital,” said an officer. “We can only tell the psychiatrist what the person is doing.” Pearson’s latest behavior presents community members the opportunity to share their stories about him with a judge, which could lead to substantial jail time and psychiatric intervention for Pearson.

On May 29, Pearson was indicted for assault charge, and is scheduled to appear in front of Judge Charles Solomon in State Supreme Court on June 25.

A.D.A. Roberts explained that Pearson’s bail was set at $5,000, or $7,500 bond, in Criminal Court.

“A lot of you would like to be heard, and I think it’s very appropriate for those of you who’ve had interactions [with Pearson] to write a letter to the judge,” Roberts told the community council meeting.

She suggested residents detail what Pearson has done to the community, and how he has impacted their lives.

Frustrated by having to assign two officers to cover Pearson whenever he is in Bellevue Hospital, and the general disruption he causes, Dowling urged residents to write letters.

Robert Ianniello Jr., president of the Fifth Precinct Community Council, and owner of Umberto’s Clam House said: “If the judge gets 50 letters saying this guy is terrorizing our neighborhood, he’s going to have to do something about it.”


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