Criminal Justice

Bragg and Adams announce charges in Times Square attack

“The only thing worse than failing to bring perpetrators to justice would be to ensnare innocent people in the criminal justice system,” Bragg said of his “meticulous” investigation.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg appeared together on Thursday to announce felony charges against seven individuals accused of assaulting police officers in Times Square last month – an incident that has fueled conservative rallying cries against newly arrived migrants in New York City.

The Jan. 27 assault, allegedly perpetrated by a group that included asylum-seekers, was captured in part on video, showing a group of men kicking two police officers to the ground outside a shelter for migrants. Bragg announced charges against seven of those individuals on Thursday, with four facing top charges of assault in the second degree, and one facing a top charge of tampering with physical evidence. The names and charges against two other men are still under seal because they have not yet been apprehended. Prosecutors are also seeking information on an additional four men suspected of participating in the assault.

“As a lifelong New Yorker, I do not tolerate attacks on our police officers. Certainly I do not as district attorney,” Bragg said Thursday. In apparent reference to the rush of calls for action against the perpetrators, Bragg described a necessarily meticulous investigation. “We had to ensure that we identified and charged those individuals who actually committed criminal acts in this matter,” he said. “The only thing worse than failing to bring perpetrators to justice would be to ensnare innocent people in the criminal justice system.”

Bragg’s appearance alongside Adams on Thursday projected unity with City Hall and the New York City Police Department as Bragg has come under attack for his handling of the investigation. The assault – and Bragg’s decision to initially seek bail for only one of those arrested last week – has formed the basis of Republicans’ recent rallying cries against New York City’s sanctuary city policies and the Democratic-led government’s broader approach to the influx of asylum-seekers to the city. 

“He wanted to get it right,” Adams said on Thursday, praising Bragg’s work.

During his visit to Albany earlier this week, Adams was asked whether he would support helping to deport migrants who commit violent crimes. Adams said on Thursday that if the individuals charged are found guilty, and if it’s “suitable,” then they should be deported. “We did our job of making the apprehension. The district attorney’s doing his job of doing the prosecuting. And if they are found guilty, and if suitable, the federal government should do their job in deporting them from our city,” Adams said.

But Adams also warned against portraying all migrants as threats to public safety. “The overwhelming number of the over 170,000 (migrants) who want to finish the next leg of their journey are pursuing the American dream. But there is a small minority that’s participating in illegal behavior” Adams said. “Just as you have a gang that’s participating in illegal behavior – the Bloods are doing something wrong in the neighborhood – that’s a crime wave of gang behavior in that neighborhood. It’s not an indicator of all those who live in that neighborhood.”

In an appearance on “Morning Joe” this week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that all the people accused of the assault should be held on bail, even if it’s unclear whether they were actually involved in the assault, and then ultimately deported.

“That was an abhorrent act, and anyone who thinks they should have been let loose, I have a big disagreement with … (Bragg’s office) wanted to make sure they had the right person, but you can hold these people while you’re still investigating. You don’t let them out,” she said.

“I want them to be prosecuted, I want them convicted, I want them to do time in jail and then we deport them,” the governor added.

The backlash to the incident has drifted over to Long Island, where immigration policy and the city’s own response to asylum-seekers have taken center stage in the hard-fought battle for the congressional seat vacated by ex-Rep. George Santos. And a group of Republican lawmakers even called on Hochul to remove Bragg from office, though that’s nothing new.

The incident also fueled a new round of attacks on the state’s cash bail laws, with conservatives arguing that the state’s 2019 reforms of those laws – which limited judges’ ability to set cash bail for people accused of certain low-level and nonviolent crimes – were responsible for migrants getting away with assault.

But the alleged perpetrators of the assault were charged with crimes that were bail-eligible, meaning that – despite the state’s bail reforms – a judge could have set cash bail for all of them and held them in Rikers if they were unable to pay.

The specific facts of the case and the state’s bail laws, though, are unlikely to affect the Republican narrative that Democrats are too soft on “migrant crime.” This perception has already led to violence against people falsely accused of being migrant criminals. 

During a live interview with Fox News on Tuesday, former Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa announced that his Guardian Angels vigilante group had assaulted and detained a Spanish-speaking man whom they suspected of being a migrant and a shoplifter. The NYPD later said that the assault victim was a Bronx man who was not suspected of shoplifting, though the department still issued the man a disorderly conduct citation.

Like the assault against the NYPD officers was, the Guardian Angels assault was caught on film, though no charges have been filed against the alleged perpetrators in that case.

At Thursday’s press conference, the mayor explicitly contrasted Bragg’s methodical investigation to Sliwa’s vigilantism.

“We don’t have the luxury to do what we saw Curtis Sliwa do – see someone on the corner and, based on their ethnicity, automatically identify them as a migrant or asylum-seeker, and not a longtime Bronx resident,” Adams said. “That is not what we can do. We have to get it right. And that's what we saw. And we should be pleased that the DA’s office and the police department is not vigilantism. It is the proper investigation and we’re getting the proper results because of that.”