BALTIMORE -- Two brothers accused of beating a black teenager while patrolling an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood are to go on trial Monday in a case with similarities to the Trayvon Martin shooting.
The brothers, who are white and Jewish, have claimed self-defense, saying the teen was holding a nail-studded board. Local civil rights activists hope the Martin case will draw more attention to what they believe was racial profiling by neighborhood watch vigilantes.
Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim are accused of beating a 15-year-old boy who was walking through a Baltimore neighborhood in November 2010. The brothers pulled up next to the teen in a vehicle, got out and "surrounded him," according to charging documents. The passenger threw the teen to the ground and the driver hit him in the head with a hand-held radio and patted him down.
The teen remembered the driver yelling, "You wanna [mess] with us, you don't belong around here, get outta here!" according to court documents, which do not identify which brother was driving.
While the teen struggled, a third man got out of a van and kneed him, pinning him to the ground. The teen told police he stopped struggling and the third man continued to search him, while the teen insisted he didn't have anything on him.
Eliyahu Werdesheim told the Baltimore Jewish Times he had acted in self-defense because the teen was holding the piece of wood. The teen picked up the board during the encounter, but put it back down, said J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for the teen's family. He said the family did not want to speak publicly.
After the trio left, the teen called police and was taken to a hospital with a cut on the back of his head and a broken wrist, according to court documents. Using a photo book compiled by investigators, the teen identified Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, as one of the men who assaulted him. He was arrested after about 10 days; his now 21-year-old brother was charged two months later.
The brothers are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon (the hand-held radio). The pair face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all three counts. A third man, identified in a lawsuit brought by the teen's family as Ronald Rosenbluth, does not face charges.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said investigators don't believe Rosenbluth was involved in the beating. Rosenbluth said he doesn't believe there was a third person and he was only called to the scene after the incident.
Law enforcement officials emphasize that neighborhood watchers' responsibility is to report crime, and leave interventions to police. Most follow the rules, and confrontations are rare.
"We owe a lot of our success to communities that have stepped up and partnered with police. They help us out," Guglielmi said. "But when they step too far, we have to hold people accountable."
It's unusual to have a trial in which the allegations mirror a case so prominent in the news, said Steven Levin, a former federal prosecutor.
"Since the Trayvon Martin case, people cannot help but think about that case and draw comparisons, whether they are fair or not," he said.