Suspect in attack on Asian American woman in NYC is arrested

A parolee convicted of killing his mother nearly two decades ago was arrested on assault and hate crime charges in an attack on an Asian American woman in New York City, police said Wednesday.

Police said Brandon Elliot, 38, is the man seen on surveillance video kicking and stomping the woman near Times Square on Monday. They said Elliot was living at a hotel that serves as a homeless shelter a few blocks from the scene of the attack. He was taken into custody at the hotel around midnight. Tips from the public led to his apprehension, police said.

Elliot was convicted of stabbing his mother to death in the Bronx in 2002, when he was 19. He was released from prison in 2019 and is on lifetime parole. The parole board had previously twice denied his release. His record also included an arrest for robbery in 2000.

"For the life of me, 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," Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a news conference Wednesday. "We need real opportunities. We need real safety nets."

Elliot, who is Black, faces charges of assault as a hate crime, attempted assault as a hate crime, assault and attempted assault in Monday's attack. It wasn't immediately known whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. He was expected to be arraigned by video Wednesday.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said prosecutors will seek to have Elliot jailed without bail pending trial. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, Vance said.

A law enforcement official identified the victim as 65-year-old Vilma Kari. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity. Kari's daughter told The New York Times that she emigrated from the Philippines several decades ago.

Kari, who was repeatedly kicked and stomped, suffered serious injuries including a fractured pelvis, the law enforcement official said. She was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, a hospital spokesperson said. Kari has been speaking to police, Shea said.

Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez said the victim is Filipina American.

The country's foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr., condemned the attack, writing on Twitter: "This is gravely noted and will influence Philippine foreign policy." He didn't elaborate how.

The Philippines and United States are longtime treaty allies, but Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte is a vocal critic of U.S. security policies who has moved to terminate a key agreement that allows largescale military exercises with U.S. forces in the Philippines.

"I might as well say it, so no one on the other side can say, 'We didn't know you took racial brutality against Filipinos at all seriously.' We do," Locsin said.

Kari was walking to church in midtown Manhattan when police said Elliot kicked her in the stomach, knocked her to the ground, stomped on her face, shouted anti-Asian slurs and told her, "You don't belong here" before casually walking away as onlookers watched. Shea called it a "completely unprovoked violent attack on an innocent, defenceless woman."

"This brave woman belongs here," Vance said. "Asian American New Yorkers belong here. Everyone belongs here."

Monday's attack, among the latest in a national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, drew widespread condemnation and concerns about the failure of bystanders to intervene. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack "absolutely disgusting and outrageous" and said it was "absolutely unacceptable" that witnesses didn't help the woman.

The attack happened just weeks after a mass shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent, and just a few days after a 65-year-old Asian American woman in the same midtown Manhattan neighbourhood was threatened and heckled with anti-Asian slurs. The surge in violence has been linked in part to misplaced blame for the coronavirus pandemic and former President Donald Trump's use of terms like "Chinese virus."

Monday's attack happened in the late morning in front of a luxury apartment building in Hell's Kitchen, a predominantly white neighbourhood west of Times Square. Two workers inside the building who appeared to be security guards were seen on video witnessing the attack but failing to come to the woman's aid. One of them was seen closing the building door as the woman was on the ground.

The building's management company said they were suspended pending an investigation. The workers' union said they called for help immediately.

Residents of the building defended the workers Wednesday in a letter to the management company and the media. They contend that a video clip focusing on the suspect and the assault was "unfortunately cut to inadvertently exclude the compassionate action" taken by the staff, which they said included giving the victim aid and alerting medics.

Detective Michael Rodriguez said there were no 911 calls. He said patrol officers driving by came upon the victim after she was assaulted.

This year in New York City, there have been 33 hate crimes with an Asian victim as of Sunday, police said. There were 11 such attacks by the same time last year. The NYPD last week said it was increasing outreach and patrols in predominantly Asian communities, including the use of undercover officers to prevent and disrupt attacks.

"This is crucial to the equation," de Blasio said of the new policing efforts. "It's a very few people but we need to find each and every one of them and stop this."

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Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.