By Daniel Katzive
Captain Neil Zuber, commanding officer of the 20th Precinct, shed some light on why the suspect in this month’s spree of armed robberies was charged with federal crimes, at this month’s Precinct Community Council meeting.
As reported by the West Side Rag last Saturday, the arrest in the series of robberies of fruit stands, taco trucks and other businesses in the 20th and neighboring precincts, occurred in the 26th Precinct after the suspect was chased from the scene of a holdup by a civilian and arrested by officers in St. Nicholas Park in West Harlem.
The Captain noted that federal laws would allow the suspect, Ryan Little, 37, to be charged more effectively with the series of crimes committed, and help keep him off the streets. According to documents filed in federal court, Little, was hit with Hobbs Act robbery and firearms charges, including “felon in possession,” and is being held without bail.
The Hobbs Act is a federal law that targets any individual who “…obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section….” according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.
In contrast to this case, a suspect in a series of pickpocket thefts of elderly victims was caught this month in the process of committing a crime, Captain Zuber reported. He is off the street for now, but will only be charged in state court with the “live crime” for which he was arrested, while his other crimes are being treated as “deferred prosecutions.”
In terms of the level of crime in the precinct, Captain Zuber indicated overall numbers are down this month. Crimes against property did rise, but this includes crimes perpetrated electronically and by telephone. He cautioned that the numbers would likely rise, as the warmer weather and Lincoln Center’s full program will draw larger numbers of visitors to the neighborhood over the summer.
Community feedback at the meeting, which was attended by a representative from the Sanitation Department, centered on quality-of-life concerns, including the disorderly behavior of a particular homeless individual and the mess being created by a sidewalk bookseller in the neighborhood. The Captain indicated the precinct was aware of the issues and working to address them, but stressed that there are limits to what officers can do under the law.
The Captain welcomed and introduced 11 new officers fresh from the police academy and commended them for joining at a difficult time for police work. In response to a question, he noted that even with these new officers, the precinct’s staffing remains well-down from where it was in past years.
The next meeting of the 20th Precinct Community Council, which is open to the public, will be held on May 26, at 7pm, in the precinct house at 120 West 82nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.
Update: Several readers wanted more details about how and why this case was handed over to the “feds.” Captain Zuber provided them:
“The Manhattan robbery squad were the lead investigators for this case since it was a pattern of several robberies encompassing more than one precinct. Once the arrest was made they immediately contacted the assistant US attorney, because certain criteria were met that allowed the option of a federal prosecution. All parties agreed that federal prosecution was beneficial and preferable in this case, and the feds took it.”