In announcing the arrests of four people on charges of vandalism at a Bay Shore gay and lesbian youth center, police Tuesday said it was an act of revenge and not a hate crime.
"We were calling it a hate crime investigation because of public perception," said Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks, commanding officer of the Suffolk police hate crimes unit, which pursued the case because of the center's mission.
Four Bay Shore residents - two of whom attended programs at the center - were arrested in connection with the incident. On Feb. 2, staffers of the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Center reported they found the building's front door smashed, windows broken and the agency van's tires slashed.
Milagro Ruiz, 21, and Gilbert Geigel Jr., 20, of Fifth Avenue; and Kerrond Miller-Jones, 19, and Charles Diaz, 21, of Perkel Street, were arraigned on second-degree criminal mischief in First District Court in Central Islip yesterday. An order of protection also was issued for the center's chief executive, David Kilmnick.
Ruiz and Diaz were held on bail of $20,000 cash, and Miller-Jones and Geigel were held on bail of $15,000 cash. They face a maximum of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.
"He was just hanging out with the wrong person," said Diaz's mother, Wanda, after the arraignment, where Diaz's lawyer Richard Stafford said his client was a National Guard veteran who worked at McDonald's.
Messages left for Ruiz's lawyer, Edward Hennessey, and Miller-Jones' lawyer, Terry Woodard, were not returned. Geigel was represented by Legal Aid.
Center officials said the vandalism highlighted fear felt by many gay people on Long Island. "Regardless of how this gets prosecuted in the end, it raised a tremendous amount of awareness about hate crimes," said James Fallarino, the center's public affairs director.
Two defendants are former center members, police said. Diaz and Geigel, who told investigators he had been a driver for the center, were reprimanded after they displayed "inappropriate and disruptive behavior" in center programs more than three years ago, Kilmnick said Tuesday.
Staff and other clients "didn't feel safe around them," Kilmnick said. The two had been kicked out and wanted to "get even," said Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer.
After the vandalism was discovered, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy decried it as an "attack against the gay community." Gov. David A. Paterson dispatched the state's commissioner of human rights to visit the center.