May 13, 2020 By Christian Murray
The Jackson Heights couple who were arrested in Williamsburg Sunday and charged with a hate crime following an altercation with a number of Hasidic men deny the charges and argue they are being unfairly maligned.
Paulo Pinho, 35, and Clelia Pinho, 46, were arrested Sunday for aggravated harassment as a hate crime after the couple got into a dispute with a number of Hasidic men near Bedford Avenue and Ross Street at around 8:30 p.m., police said.
The couple allegedly got out of their car and confronted the men—who were part of a large group– for failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Police say the couple then assaulted three Hasidic men. They allegedly punched them in the face and ripped their face masks off, while making anti-Semitic remarks related to the COVID-19 outbreak, a NYPD spokesperson said.
But the couple argue that police report does not portray what actually took place.
The couple, according to their attorney Kenneth E. Belkin, were driving through the area when they saw more than 100 Hasidic men in the street and took exception to the fact that they were not social distancing.
The couple, Belkin said, got out of their car to begin filming so they could publicize the group’s behavior. They were upset because they deliver groceries each day for a living—wearing all manner of PPE to protect themselves—and viewed this as putting the public at risk.
“They began filming and yelling for the crowd to put masks on to practice social distancing,” Belkin said. “This incensed the crowd and tempers flared. My clients were the ones who called the NYPD and they did so out of fear for their lives.”
There were published reports that the couple yelled: “You Jews are getting us all sick,” a quote that the couple deny making according to Belkin.
In fact, Belkin said his clients were the ones attacked, requiring Clelia to seek treatment at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull with a broken arm. The couple claim she got stomped on by the crowd.
The Queens Post was unable to verify this.
“The attacks on my clients left them bruised and in Clelia’s case, with a broken arm,” Belkin said. “My clients were attacked for speaking out about what they saw and taking an irresponsible mass of individuals to task for their lack of adherence to the Governor’s guidelines.”
The three Hasidic men who were attacked refused medical treatment, according to police.
Belkin said the incident had nothing to do with the fact that the men are Jewish.
“This was not an altercation that began because my clients were targeting Jews. My clients abhor racism and anti-Antisemitism in all of their forms.”
He said that the couple are scheduled to be arraigned in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Sept. 8 and that they are worried about what the charges might mean in terms of their immigration status.
Belkin also took exception to the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in on the matter on Monday during his daily press briefing.
The mayor called the incident unacceptable and said the police would make sure there are consequences for the suspects.
“We don’t accept bias in New York City,” he said. “Any act of hate crime, we pursue it.”
Belkin said that it is “reprehensible for Mayor de Blasio to be commenting on the arrest” without knowing all the facts. “We still live in a free country where all who are arrested are entitled to a presumption of innocence.”