A Brooklyn man who is fighting multiple assault charges in a 2009 altercation and faces deportation to Mexico says he was defending himself from an anti-gay attack.
“I was dancing with another gay friend when an older person started harassing and saying nasty things about my sexuality,” wrote Ricardo Muñiz, 23, in a statement that was translated from Spanish to English by Karina Claudio-Betancourt, the LGBTQ justice coordinator at Make the Road New York, a social justice group.
Muñiz and at least two friends left the Brooklyn bar where they had been dancing. That same older man and another younger man later cut them off with a car on the street, according to the defendant.
“These two people started attacking us,” Muñiz wrote of the July 18 incident. “I tried to calm them down… but things got heated up.”
One of the men pulled a bat or wooden stick from the car and attacked Muñiz with it.
“I thought I had broken my arm,” Muñiz wrote.
One of the men, identified in police records as José Cruz, 65 at the time, fell and struck his head, according to Muñiz’s account. Whether due to a blow to his head or the fall, Cruz sustained serious injuries that required a medically-induced coma and a lengthy hospital stay.
In the police version of the attack, Muñiz and two “unapprehended others” set upon Cruz and a female, Germana Serrano, 31 at the time, with fists, a “belt buckle,” and a “wooden stick.”
The charges against Muñiz concern only the attack on Cruz. The indictment does not mention Serrano.
Complicating Muñiz’s defense, two men who might support his story are gone.
In his statement, Muñiz identified Danny and Carmelo as two friends who were with him that night. A press statement from Make the Road identified Carmelo León, who is not charged, as another victim, but he cannot be located, Claudio-Betancourt said at an April 7 press conference outside the Brooklyn criminal courts. That statement did not mention Danny.
At a May 7 hearing, Martin P. Murphy, the judge currently hearing the Muñiz case, noted that a co-defendant named Valdez was deported. Following the hearing, Muñiz’s mother, Jorgelina Aguirre,** confirmed that a Danny Valdez was a friend of her son’s.
Valdez was deported before he could be tried.
Muñiz is being held on Rikers Island. While state courts granted Muñiz bail, federal immigration authorities have a warrant for him, meaning he would be transferred to their custody if he made bail.
At the April 7 press event, activists called on Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, to end the case against Muñiz.
“Ricardo was a victim of a hate crime,” Claudio-Betancourt said. “He reported this to the police… They accused him of attacking his attackers.”
Tiffany Marie Sanchez, a member of Make the Road, called Muñiz “an innocent man,” and said, “Ricardo was the victim of an anti-gay hate crime… DA Charles Hynes, drop the charges now.”
Muñiz’s mother also read a statement, but it was in Spanish and not translated.
Law enforcement has a different view of the case. Words were exchanged between the two groups inside the bar, just outside it, and during the fight, which took place very near Cruz’s home. That suggested to police that Muñiz and his friends followed Cruz and Serrano. The Brooklyn district attorney gave 250 pages of Cruz’s medical records to the defense at the April 7 hearing.
“There is no direct evidence, other than the defendant’s own statement, that the victim uttered anti-gay remarks,” Hynes said in a statement. “Whatever transpired between these men, there is no justification for this brutal beating, leading to a medically-induced coma and possible permanent impairment that the victim suffered, at the hands of this defendant and his associates.”
**Member of Make the Road New York.