Prosecutors: Teens went on hate crime spree
A group of teenagers bent on "beating up Spanish guys" are facing hate crime charges for a series of attacks on the streets of Huntington Station earlier this month, authorities said Friday.
In separate early-evening attacks on Dec. 1 and 7, the teenagers punched four Hispanic men in the head from behind, then hit and kicked them, Suffolk prosecutors said.
The victims suffered concussions, bruises and cuts that in one case required stitches in the head and arm, authorities said. Further details about the victims were not disclosed.
The attackers stole wallets, cash, cellphones, groceries and shoes, according to prosecutors.
Four teens are being prosecuted as adults: Justin Stridiron, 14, of Greenlawn; Nykwon Harrison, 16, Kyree Johnson, 14, and Eric Mann Jr., 16, all of Huntington Station.
In statements to police, they said they were "beating up Spanish guys" during the crime spree, Assistant District Attorney Sona Sullivan said during their arraignment in Riverhead.
Stridiron, Harrison, Johnson and Mann pleaded not guilty to grand jury charges of second-degree robbery as a hate crime, a felony.
Two other juveniles arrested in connection with the attacks have been granted youthful offender status in Family Court, authorities said. Details about their charges were not immediately available.
Attorneys for the teens accused of hate crimes disputed the charges and questioned the legitimacy of any statements given to police.
Christopher Gioe, a Central Islip attorney representing Harrison, said he wants to know why "a child 16 years old" was "interrogated by detectives without an attorney present."
Attorney William Sammis of Copiague, representing Mann, said the teen is a hearing-impaired 10th-grader who attends special education classes.
"He was not involved. He was basically a witness," Sammis said. "He hangs out with these kids, and he didn't know they would be doing this stuff. . . . This is the first time he's in trouble."
Johnson's attorney, Joe Cozzo of Central Islip, said his client "ran in the opposite direction" during the one attack he is charged with, on Dec. 7.
Johnson does not have a criminal record and had met one of the defendants at a football camp and the others at a convenience store, Cozzo said.
He said he was surprised the robbery charge was elevated to a hate crime.
"He said, 'I'm not racist at all. I have Spanish friends, I have Asian friends, I have Caucasian friends,' " the attorney said, quoting Johnson.
Stridiron, who was represented by Legal Aid, and Mann were each indicted on eight counts of second-degree robbery, while Harrison faces six counts. Each was held on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.
Johnson faces two robbery counts and was released after posting $30,000 bond -- and getting a scolding from a judge.
"These are serious offenses, son," Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow said, as Johnson nodded. "Heed my words, son. . . . This is no joke."Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Police Department entered an agreement with the federal government to revamp its hate crime investigations and improve relations with the Hispanic community.
The accord stems from the 2008 hate killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero and community advocates' assertions that police failed to fully investigate attacks on Hispanic men.