September 21, 2014

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September 19, 2014

Russian Tourist Facing Charges For Climbing Brooklyn Bridge Signs Up For Community Service

A Russian tourist accused of climbing up a cable on the Brooklyn Bridge in August was in court Friday, and is still waiting for a final resolution.

Yaroslav Kolchin faces a reckless endangerment charge for climbing to the top of the bridge because it was “fun,” WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.

Kolchin was seen walking back and forth on the landing, taking photos with his iPhone, police said. They said once a police aviation unit was hovering at an altitude next to the tower, Kolchin began to descend safely down the same way he had climbed up.

He was met by police at the security gate, where he was taken into custody without further incident.
In the meantime, Kolchin has signed himself up for community service– something the judges have said would be far more fitting than the 90 days in jail prosecutors were offering him.

He is spending his time volunteering for New York Cares, Cornell reported.
“Yes, last time in Russia, it was my dream. But in America, it is reality, it’s really great,” Kolchin said.

Kolchin said his English is getting better every day, saying “I love this country.”

Two men convicted in 1993 kidnapping of Brooklyn teen see guilty verdicts overturned in state appeals court

Two men who’ve spent more than 15 years in prison after being convicted in 1993 of kidnapping a 16-year-old Brooklyn girl saw their guilty verdicts overturned Wednesday when a state appeals court ruled cops withheld evidence that might have cleared them and then lied about it.

Everton Wagstaffe and Reginald Connor, both sentenced to up to 25 years in prison, had always maintained they were innocent in the kidnapping and death of Jennifer Negron.

The teenage girl’s bludgeoned body was found on New Year’s Day 1992 in East New York. A witness was produced by cops and used by prosecutors to link the two men to the crime, even though they had no link to Jennifer and no motive was ever established.

A judge dismissed the murder charges due to lack of evidence, but Wagstaffe and Conner were convicted of kidnapping. For the past 23 years, they’ve struggled to prove they weren’t guilty of any crime.

Cops had insisted that Wagstaffe and Connor weren’t suspects until the witness brought their names up. But based on evidence provided by defense lawyers, the Appellate Division ruled Wednesday that cops had been looking at the men before the witness appeared — and had lied about it in prior court hearings.

“The defendants were being investigated by the New York City Police Department prior to the detectives' interview of [the witness], a fact that was contrary to the testimony of one of the investigating detectives that the interview with [the witness] on Jan. 2, 1992, led the police to the defendants,” the ruling stated.

The defense lawyers had additional arguments attacking other police evidence as well, but the appeals court said it didn’t need to hear anymore and moved to overturn the convictions.

“Mr. Wagstaffe is in shock, he is trying to come to grips with this,” his attorney, Myron Beldock, said Wednesday.

The Appellate Division took the unusual step of not just overturning the convictions but also dismissing the original indictments — which Beldock said was an indication of how flagrantly the authorities had violated the law while pursuing the guilty verdicts.

“It is very rare (to do both), it indicates the great injustice that occurred when evidence was kept from the defense. As the court said, the verdict would probably have been different,” Beldock said.

His client, Wagstaffe, 45, is currently in the 23rd year of his 25-year sentence. Wagstaffe had refused to accept parole offers for early release that demanded he admit guilt.

Beldock hopes that Wagstaffe will be brought to the city from Greene Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Coxsackie, NY, as early as next week for a hearing on next steps in his case.

Connor, 46, served 15 years and was released on parole, said his attorney David Toscano.

As a condition of his release, he had to register as a sex offender, Toscano said. It’s been a “big obstacle” as Connor has tried to rebuild his life, the lawyer noted.

“This is great news, obviously he’s very happy today. He was wrongly convicted and even out on parole he continues to have restrictions on him,” Toscano said.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office still has an option to appeal, but the lawyers said they’d hoped not further litigation would be necessary.

“We would be very disappointed if this ruling were not the end of the matter ... It would be a very misguided use of prosecutorial resources,” said Toscano.

Jennifer Negron’s case was one of 100 being re-examined by Brooklyn prosecutors after information emerged about a tainted detective who allegedly fabricated evidence in some murder cases decades ago. The Conviction Review Unit is going over 71 cases tied to retired detective Louis Scarcella.

The questionable detective wasn’t involved in Jennifer Negron’s murder investigation, but the cops’ methods in identifying Wagstaffe and Connor fit the “pattern” of a Scarcella case because they relied on testimony from a sole witness, Toscano said.

As with many of the Scarcella convictions under examination, Wagstaffe and Connor were convicted on the word of a police informant — a crack-addicted prostitute who had to be forced to testify at trial. The woman, identified as Brunilda Capella in Wednesdays’ ruling, died many years ago. But she provided a key detail that prosecutors used to define their case. Capella said she saw Wagstaffe and Connor haul Jennifer Negron into a Buick known around the neighborhood. When cops found the car, they also found a headband on the backseat. It had belonged to the dead girl, prosecutors claimed.

Cops said they’d never suspected Wagstaffe, who’d been arrested on prior drug charges, or Connor, who’d been arrested for robberies, until Capella pointed them out.

But as it happened, it was the cops who fingered the men, and fed the information to their so-called witness, Beldock said.

“She did not disclose their names until [cops] told her who they wanted her to identify. They misrepresented it. It was fraud and misrepresentation,” he said.

Toscano and Beldock had plenty of other ammunition to bring to bear if they had needed it, including new DNA tests that proved hair and skin under the victim’s fingernails did not belong to Wagstaffe and Connor.

They also had found the woman who owned the Buick implicated in the crime.

The woman had testified that she’d taken her car to church the night of the girl’s murder, where it had stayed until 5 a.m. the next day. She said she’d told cops that in 1992, but they made no record of her statement.

Brooklyn vendor given cheap-shot kick by cop says NYPD needs ‘to take care of us better’

The Brooklyn fruit vendor who was kicked in the back by a cop after he had been subdued and handcuffed by other officers said he can’t stop thinking about the jarring assault and the officer’s cheap shot.

“I couldn’t stop watching the video. I was traumatized,” Jonathan Daza said Thursday at his Sunset Park home, holding back tears as his 7-month-old son, Jonathan Jr., bounced on his shoulder.

“I watched it over and over, and I honestly can’t believe that I’m still here ... that I’m still alive.”

The 22-year-old and his family were selling fruit at a street fair on Fifth Ave. in Sunset Park on Sunday. When the fair was set to close, cops began to open the street and told them to clear out along with other vendors.

Daza and his family were packing up, he said, when a group of officers came up to them and started asking for their identification.

As one of the cops grilled Daza’s 17-year-old sister, the vendor said he told her not to answer their questions. The police quickly turned their attention to the vendor.

“The officer starts yelling at me, asking me who I am, and I told him: ‘I’m her brother,’” Daza recalled. “That’s when the officer grabbed me, with force; he pulled me to the side and then he called for more officers, and then that’s when they started hitting me.”

Beckett’s ‘Embers,’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

The way to hear Samuel Beckett’s radio play “Embers,” in the Pan Pan Theater production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is to shut out the vivid imagery onstage. Only then will Beckett’s words, the story of a solitary man named Henry, lost in thoughts spoken aloud at the sea’s edge, be free to form pictures in your mind.

That advice seems counterintuitive, and terribly conservative: Who goes to the theater to ignore visuals as striking as these? An enormous sculpted skull (by Andrew Clancy) hunkers amid a landscape of stones; around it, hundreds of small round speakers hang suspended and gleaming. Aedin Cosgrove bathes it all in gorgeous lighting, now stark, now soft and undulating. As an art installation, the design is a thorough success.

Funk-Driven Art Highlights Brooklyn Neighborhood's Past

At the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn visitors can explore homes that still stand from a 19th century black settlement.

"A group of African Americans purchased land, which afforded them the right to vote, and then began to build a self-sustaining activist community for other free African Americans around 1838," says Tia Powell Harris, the Executive Director of the Weeksville Heritage Center. "We have a radical story to tell here and it needs to be told."

To bring the conversation to the present day, the public art organization Creative Time asked four artists to create new works of art inspired by the self-empowerment vision of Weeksville.

"We're doing a project called OJBK radio. It is a temporary, guerrilla-style radio station that will be on the corner of Fulton and Utica. It will be housed in a sound sculpture and takes the form of a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville," says Robert Pruitt, an artist with the Otabenga Jones and Associates Art Collective.

Each artist found a theme with the help of his or her community partner, and so the exhibit is called "Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn."

"What does black radical Brooklyn look like today? What does it look like to take control over your community, your radio station, your images, your health and your design? And so we're thinking about that in terms of what makes Black Radical Brooklyn radical today," notes Rashida Bumbray, a Guest Curator at Creative Time.

There are lots of interactive components to the project, including one called An Urban Rhapsody in FUNKtional Design, with an emphasis on Funk.

"Zenobia Bailey has been working with these high school students to actually make what she calls funk-ified objects, where they take cardboard and newspapers and materials of everyday life, and she makes couture objects that they're installing into one of these historic homes," said Nato Thompson, Creative Time's Chief Curator.

Visitors can explore the artworks here and nearby through self-guided walking tours each weekend through October 12.

The Totally Serious Plan to Connect Brooklyn and Manhattan by Gondola

If an imaginative real estate executive gets his way, New Yorkers soon will have a new way of crossing the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Instead of slogging across a traffic-snarled bridge or cramming into a packed subway car, they’d soar over the river in … a gondola.

Dan Levy, head of CityRealty, is totally serious about this. He came up with the idea for the East River Skyway a few years ago while skiing. He thought it could work in New York, given that other cities, including Portland, London, and Rio de Janeiro have similar systems.

This week, Levy published a bold plan for an aerial network connecting Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. He figures it could be built for between $75 million and a $100 million, a fraction of what New York’s spent on recent subway expansion projects. The idea has a lot going for it, but if built as Levy envisions, it would be useful to only a small, affluent subset of the city.

Much of the proposed network includes waterfront stations, which wouldn’t be much help to commuters who need to get inland. There’s also the fact those stations could be put to better use. “In practicality, I don’t know why we would connect perfectly good boating docks with gondolas,” says Sarah Kaufman, adjunct assistant professor of planning at New York University and digital manager at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation. “We should be connecting those areas with boats, water taxis, ferries.”

Secular Jews in Brooklyn Courted by Two Faiths

A battle is brewing over secular Jews in the heart of Brooklyn.

On one side is Chosen People Ministries, a group that worships Jesus, but "in a Jewish way," says its leader, Mitch Glaser, a Brooklyn native who grew up in a Jewish home and now leads an international evangelical organization.

On the other side is the Brooklyn Jewish Xperience, known as BJX, an Orthodox Jewish group that aims to draw unaffiliated Jews closer to their religious heritage. Brothers Yitzchok and Moshe Fingerer, who are rabbis, lead BJX.

The two new organizations have set up outposts within four blocks of each other on a busy commercial stretch in Midwood. As the Jewish high holidays approach, each will offer a space for worship, religious study and social activities. Both will be doing street outreach.

"Our hope is to bring the message of the Jewish Jesus to the Jewish people of the very Jewish area of Midwood Brooklyn," Mr. Glaser said.

"We are praying for them," said Rabbi Moshe Fingerer. "A Jew is a Jew. It's a sin that they believe in Jesus."

Midwood, and the surrounding neighborhoods of Flatbush and Kensington, is home to 108,500 Jews, according to a 2011 report from the UJA-Federation of New York. More than half of the population is Orthodox Jewish, and 27% of all of the households are Russian-speaking, according to the report. Some 60% of Jews in these neighborhoods are under the age of 39. Messianic Judaism, the faith espoused by Chosen People Ministries, blends Christian beliefs with some aspects of Jewish practice.

Leaders of BJX say they selected a loft-like, second-story space for its proximity to both Chosen People Ministries and a subway and bus-line stop. In the coming weeks, BJX will begin offering Torah study, Shabbos dinners and a regular mixer featuring kosher pizza and beer. The secular Jews they are trying to reach are young professionals and college students.

BJX has developed a website and videos to air their sharp critique of Chosen People Ministries. The ministry is "preying upon Jews that don't know any better," said Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer.

"I have nothing against them opening a center, but not operating under the premise that they are authentic Jews," he said. "If they are parading around with our garb, wearing our head-coverings…to ... disguise themselves as authentic Jews while doing Jewish outreach, then I have an issue."

Midwood residents interviewed seemed unaware of the coming religious campaigns.

Ofra Tregerman, 52 years old and Jewish, said she didn't believe her Orthodox neighbors would go to a church to learn about Jesus. "My Christian friends will love it," she said. "But if you're Jewish, no."

Alex Stolyar is also Jewish and co-owns the ANB Baby store near Chosen People Ministries. "If you don't know much about religion and what they are all about, you might think they are a synagogue," he said.

Mr. Glaser, who earned a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission in Pasadena, Calif., said his congregation's beliefs were reflected in its name: Beth Sar Shalom, the house of the prince of peace. "Now, that should be a giveaway," he said. "The name tells the story."

Teenager Who Disappeared From Brooklyn School Is Found

A 15-year-old girl with severe emotional problems who walked out of her Brooklyn school this week and was missing for two days was found safe at a friend’s home on Thursday, officials said.

“As a parent and as a grandmother in particular, I’m relieved to announce that the child has been found,” the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said during a visit to a charter school in Queens.

According to the police, the girl, Nashaly Perez Rodriguez, was found at the house of a friend in East New York, Brooklyn. The friend’s mother called the police on Thursday morning to say the girl was with her and officers picked her up around 7 a.m.

NYC to Fund Eight New Brooklyn Cultural Projects

Brooklyn’s rapidly expanding cultural district will receive significant funds from the $131 million allotted in the city’s 2015 capital budget for improvements and new facilities, reported DNAinfo on Thursday.

Funding will go to eight new projects planned for the area’s institutions and non-profits. Expect new facilities and flashy changes at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mark Morris Dance Center, and others.

BAM gets $5 million for expanding its theaters and a new archive space, as part of the “BAM South” tower development. That same tower will also house 651 ARTS’s first dedicated space on one 12,000-square-foot floor. The Brooklyn Museum is looking to build an educational space with its $4.4 million, but that likely won’t happen for several years.

MoCADA will pool funding from past years and the added $2.8 from the city for a new building, the details for which are still pending. Also vague are plans for the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which is set to receive $1.5 million.

The Mark Morris Dance Center and the Prospect Park Alliance will receive $400,00 and $500,000 respectively, for converting terraces to studio space and prettying-up Flatbush Avenue.

In first place with the most funding allocated is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which will get $5.3 million to build a brook and water garden for conserving stormwater. Conscious of the city’s flooding issues in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a spokeswoman explained that the projects would have “mechanisms to prevent flooding,” according to DNAinfo.

Read more at 

Transforming a Brooklyn Neighborhood With New Condos

Not all that long ago, before the Brooklyn waterfront became a must-do on seemingly every tourist’s list, Dumbo’s converted warehouses and Belgian-block streets were inhabited by artists and young families, drawn by cheap rents, postindustrial architecture and relative isolation.

But over the last decade, Dumbo’s once desolate landscape has transformed to a teeming waterfront playground. And its now familiar acronym, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, has become synonymous with some of Brooklyn’s most expensive real estate, with a median sales price of $1.5 million through July, according to

Weekdays, Dumbo’s burgeoning media and tech hub brings a steady torrent of jean-clad, Warby Parker-wearing 20- and 30-somethings streaming out of the subways each morning and into converted warehouses that house the headquarters of start-ups like the dating site HowAboutWe, the digital agency Huge and Etsy. On weekends, hordes of tourists descend on Brooklyn Bridge Park and Dumbo’s nearby streets.

Unidentified woman crushed by bus in Brooklyn had a crack pipe in her bra

The woman — who is said to be Hispanic and in her 50s — was killed when she was run over by a bus while trying to retrieve a cellphone she dropped. No criminal charges have been filed against driver James Maxwell, who said he did not see her before moving the vehicle.

The woman who was crushed to death while trying to retrieve her dropped cell phone from under a bus in Brooklyn had a crack pipe in her bra, police sources said Thursday.

She had just stepped off the B44 bus about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Bedford-Stuyvesant when she fumbled the phone. Just as she went to retrieve it, the bus pulled away from the curb, trapping her under the right rear wheels.

The woman, who appeared to be Hispanic and in her 50s, wasn’t carrying any identification and cops said the phone was too damaged to provide any information.

But cops are hoping several distinctive tattoos will lead them to her identity, police sources said.

NYPD: Police helicopter has near miss with drone over Brooklyn

NEW YORK -- Police say a man has been arrested after an NYPD helicopter had a near miss with a drone in Brooklyn.

CBS New York reports it happened early Wednesday morning over Greene Avenue in Bushwick.

The chopper was helping to search for a missing person when police said the drone came within 50 feet of the aircraft. That's when the helicopter had to suddenly change course, police said.

Isaac Rosa, 34, was arrested for illegally operating the drone, which was equipped with a GoPro camera, police said. He's charged with reckless endangerment and obstructing governmental administration.

Police find girl who disappeared from Brooklyn special needs school

Nashaly Perez, 15, was last seen Monday when she sneaked out of Public School 371 in Sunset Park through an unguarded door. Her mother, Sandra Perez Rodriguez, says Nashaly has attention deficit disorder and a history of mental problems. Rodriguez has been in contact with lawyer David Perecman, who is representing the mother of Avonte Oquendo, an autistic boy who fled his Queens school in October and died.

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September 15, 2014

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