NEW YORK — A homeless man who was out on parole for killing his mother was arrested and charged with a hate crime early Wednesday in connection with a violent attack on a Filipino immigrant near Times Square, police said.
The man, Brandon Elliot, 38, was living at a hotel in midtown Manhattan that has been serving as a homeless shelter, police said. He was seen on security footage brutally assaulting Vilma Kari, 65, as she was walking to church Monday morning.
Elliot was being charged with two counts of assault as a hate crime and one count of attempted assault as a hate crime, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said at a news conference. If convicted, he will face up to 25 years in prison in addition to other consequences related to his parole.
“Mr. Elliot is accused of brutally shoving, kicking and stomping a 65-year-old mother to the ground after telling her that she didn’t belong here,” Vance said at a joint news conference with the city’s police commissioner, Dermot Shea. “So let me join the commissioner in being clear: This brave woman belongs here. Asian American New Yorkers belong here. Everyone belongs here.”
The video shows the man kicking Kari in the chest outside a luxury apartment building. After she staggers back and collapses onto the sidewalk, he then kicks her repeatedly in the head.
Officials said that Elliot, who is Black, shouted a number of disparaging remarks at Kari. According to a draft of the criminal complaint, he approached her shouting, “You don’t belong here,” singling her out as Asian, and following up with words that Kari said she was unable to hear.
Kari suffered a fractured pelvis and contusions on her body and forehead, according to the draft complaint.
The horrifying footage spread widely across social media and in news reports, intensifying the outrage and fear caused by an increasing number of reports of anti-Asian hate crimes across the nation in recent weeks.
Elliot, who was arrested late Tuesday, was arraigned in Manhattan on Wednesday night. After a prosecutor asked that he be held without bail, a Legal Aid Society lawyer representing Elliot indicated they had not yet prepared a bail application. The case was adjourned until April 5.
In a statement, the society urged the public “to reserve judgment until all the facts are presented in court.”
Earlier in the day, Shea had said the police were also investigating whether Elliot had been linked to other anti-Asian attacks.
Elliot pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2002 after fatally stabbing his mother in front of his 5-year-old sister in the Bronx, said Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokesperson for the Bronx district attorney.
According to news reports, Elliot, who was then 19, stabbed his mother in the chest three times. He was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison and was released on lifetime parole in November 2019, after he had served 16 years and had two previous parole applications denied, according to officials and state corrections records.
Shea suggested that a lack of resources in the city’s shelter system and inadequate social services may have played some role in the attack.
“I don’t understand why we are releasing or pushing people out of prison not to give them second chances, but to put them into homeless facilities or shelters — or in this case a hotel — and expect good outcomes,” he said at the news conference.
The shelter where Elliot lived, at the Four Points by Sheraton on West 40th Street, was moved from another hotel earlier this year after members of a local community board pushed to have it relocated amid rising complaints of violence and drug use. The operator of the shelter, the Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs, a nonprofit organization, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Louis Montanez, 52, said he lived at the previous location with Elliot, whom he saw outside the building from time to time. Some of the other residents would sometimes give Elliot money to pick up food for them and let him keep the change, he said.
“He would come outside, buy loosies, smoke whatever he was smoking, and that was it,” Montanez said, adding that Elliot was someone he consciously avoided because his behavior seemed erratic.
“He’s one of them guys I wouldn’t have associated with,” Montanez said.
Keith Johnson, a resident of the shelter on 40th Street, said he was on friendly terms with Elliot, who used to go to the store for him. He described Elliot as someone who needed to be in a setting where he could “get his mind together,” rather than a homeless shelter.
“He had no business being here,” Johnson, 59, said.
Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen sharply during the pandemic, according to police departments across the country. Many of them have been triggered by people falsely blaming Asian Americans for spreading the coronavirus.
So far this year, the New York City Police Department has investigated 33 anti-Asian attacks as hate crimes, exceeding the 28 it investigated in all of last year. Many of the victims in these cases have been middle-aged men and women who were alone on public transit or, like Kari, on city streets.
Community advocates also say that anti-Asian attacks have long been underreported, and many reported incidents have not led to arrests or were not charged as hate crimes. The Police Department said last week that any unprovoked attacks on people of Asian descent would be referred for investigation as possible hate crimes.
Given the public nature of these attacks, the actions — or inaction — of bystanders have come under particular scrutiny. In the initial footage released on the attack on Kari, several workers in the lobby of the luxury building appeared to do nothing to intervene, which heightened anger online.
Extended footage from the building’s surveillance cameras obtained by The New York Times Wednesday told a more complicated story. The footage appeared to show a delivery person who was not associated with the building at 360 W. 43rd St. as the sole witness inside the lobby to the attack.
The delivery person appeared to alert members of the building staff, two of whom moved toward the entrance. One then closed the front door.
A bystander then crossed the street and appeared to interact with the perpetrator. By that point, three doormen were inside the lobby, watching what was going on and speaking to at least one building resident who left the lobby and hurried past the scene outside.
A minute later, the video shows, the doormen walked outside, apparently to render assistance to Kari. Soon after that, a police vehicle pulled up as residents, including a child on a scooter, continued to filter in and out of the building.
The Brodsky Organization, the company that owns the building, said Wednesday that it was continuing to investigate the response of its lobby staff, and that staff members had flagged a police officer down after the attack occurred.
Detective Michael Rodriguez, who is investigating the attack, said that the police received no 911 calls about the attack but that patrol officers driving by the building encountered the victim.
Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, the union representing the staff members, urged the public “to avoid a rush to judgment” until the investigation had concluded.
Kari and her family could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She was discharged from NYU Langone Hospital on Tuesday evening, hospital officials said.