NYC launches program to re-examine drug and homicide cases in gay bars

New York City officials on Thursday announced a new program to review unsolved drug, robbery and homicide cases involving LGBTQ victims, including some decades-old cases.

The announcement, made by the New York Police Department and the mayor’s office, comes more than a year after the deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger, who were killed in April and May of last year. Authorities later said their deaths were the result of a drug-related robbery involving at least 16 victims, many of them men who frequented gay bars.

News of the program also comes as several of the victims alleged that the NYPD initially did not take their cases as seriously as they had hoped, NBC News reported a few months ago. At the time, the NYPD did not respond to questions regarding the victims’ claims.

Under the new initiative, LGBTQ victims whose cases have not been resolved, as well as friends and family members of deceased gay victims, can request that cases be reconsidered by completing an online form at the NYPD website. The form, which appears to be the general form for sending a message to the police commissioner, will be reviewed by officials from the NYPD Detective Bureau, who will then facilitate such requests.

“Every New Yorker should be able to go out at night, enjoy New York’s renowned nightlife, and return home safely to their family and community,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. communicated. “We miss Julio and John and all LGBTQIA+ victims of crime. LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers and visitors need to be safe and feel safe, especially during Pride Month, and we hope this new process will help resolve more cases and answer more questions for communities. .

A spokesperson for the mayor added that the new program applies to gay victims of crimes, including but not limited to homicide.

Earlier this year, six men were charged in connection with the criminal scheme that led to the deaths of Ramirez and Umberger, although only three are charged with murder, according to an indictment by prosecutors. Following the arrests, several victims who have reported similar crimes to police say they are still waiting for their cases to be resolved.

In December 2021, Tyler Burt reported to police that he was robbed of thousands of dollars after visiting a gay bar in Manhattan’s East Village. Burt said he believed the men who robbed him also drugged him.

He has previously described the NYPD as being, at times, insensitive and “reluctant” to work on his case. He shared with NBC News an email chain he had with the detective on his case, which showed several of his requests for updates went unanswered for days and weeks at a time.

Burt said he had not received an update on his case since January 2022. He did, however, receive a call from the detective on his case in November, reprimanding him for speaking with NBC News and other media, did he declare. At the time, the NYPD did not respond to questions about the exchange.

Immediately after hearing about the new program, Burt submitted a request to have his case reconsidered. He, however, said he was not optimistic, calling the new program a “public relations move”.

“Why didn’t they pay attention the first time?” I am so confused,” he said. “Why does it need to be reconsidered? Because it was barely reviewed in the first place? »

A 48-year-old Manhattan resident who reported to police he was robbed after visiting a Chelsea gay leather bar in October, said he was glad authorities are re-examining old cases , but accused them of not doing enough to warn New Yorkers. of the current danger.

While authorities say the scheme ran from September 2021 to August 2022, NBC News reported last month that another incident linked to the same group of suspects – according to law enforcement sources – occurred again on March 25, four days before the first round of their indictments. have been issued.

“There were attacks for months that the police were investigating, but no mechanism found that there was a series of similar crimes hitting a community,” the 48-year-old said in a statement. SMS. “And even after this was reported to the press and the attacks continued, neither the mayor’s office, nor the police commissioner’s office, nor the prosecutor alerted the community that this was happening.”

The man asked not to be named for fear of putting himself in danger of reprisals from the criminals involved in his meeting. (He previously worked at MSNBC — which, like NBC News, is owned by NBCUniversal — but no longer does.)

Since taking office in January 2022, Adams, who has campaigned as a tough-on-crime moderate, has regularly held press conferences on public safety issues. Over the past few weeks, for example, the mayor has held press conferences about gang violence in Brooklyn, auto theft and retail theft.

But it wasn’t until April 18—about a year and a half after the first known incident in the drug-induced robbery program, and about a month after the March 25 robbery—that Adams, in conjunction with Commissioner of NYPD Keechant L. Sewell and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg held a press conference on the crime pattern, which largely targeted men in gay bars.

The press conference took place a day after the last ring suspect was arrested, police said. Asked about the timing of the public address, Fabien Levy, the mayor’s press secretary, said there was “limited information that we could share publicly given that the suspects were still at large”.

Linda Clary – the mother of one of the deceased victims, John Umberger – speculated the timing “was a political maneuver” as it also came a day after the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee held a court hearing in Manhattan to attack Bragg, a Democrat, also low on crime and critical of his office’s landmark lawsuits against former President Donald Trump.

“They needed a win,” said Clary, who is the chief executive of a Republican political advisory group. She said the House Judiciary Committee invited her to testify at the hearing, but she declined because she did not want to politicize her son’s death.

Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, pushed back against accusations that the presser’s timing was “political.”

“We held the press conference as soon as the full indictment came out, which was when we were able to legally talk about the whole case,” Cohen said in an email. e-mail on Monday, after the publication of this story.

Levy added that the mayor’s representatives were warning bar owners and patrons, as well as people residing in LGBTQ neighborhoods, about the case and sharing ways to stay safe. He added that the city’s Office of Nightlife held a press conference with Hell’s Kitchen bar owners in June 2022 to promote nightlife safety tips and distributed safety flyers in various neighborhoods. from the city.

The NYPD did not return a request for comment regarding the presser’s timing.

At the April press conference, Sewell pushed back when asked by NBC News if detectives were initially dismissive because the victims were gay.

“We will never discriminate against anyone in this city,” Sewell said. “They are all part of our communities, and we will make sure to address any concerns they may have.”

Officials noted Thursday that some cases that could be reconsidered could be referred to the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force “to determine if there is a possible bias motivation.”

“New York City is one of the most diverse places on earth, and the New York City Police Department is committed to providing fair and just public safety for all,” Sewell said in a statement on Thursday. “To this end, it is essential that we amplify the voices of our LGBTQIA+ community, especially the voices of victims. This case review process reinforces that work and, in turn, makes every community in our city safer.

LGBTQ hate crimes represent the second highest share of reported hate crimes in New York since 2019, according to the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Dashboard.

Authorities have previously said that while most of the victims are gay men, suspects in the citywide drug robbery scheme were motivated by financial gain, not their sexual orientation.

A separate group is being investigated on suspicion of committing similar crimes against 26 victims, most of whom are not from the LGBTQ community.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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