By Jeremy Walsh
Two Woodside men have been indicted on hate crime charges for allegedly assaulting a transgender woman in Jackson Heights this spring, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Gilberto Ortiz, 32, and Trinidad Tapia, 19, were arraigned Friday on seven counts, including assault as a hate crime, attempted assault, weapon possession and harassment. If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in prison, Brown said. The men were released on their own recognizance and ordered to return to court Jan. 28.
“The actions of the grand jury send a clear message that crimes of hate will not be tolerated in Queens County, the most culturally diverse county in the nation,” Brown said in a statement. “When they do regrettably occur, those responsible will be brought to justice.”
At 4:20 a.m. June 19, Leslie Mora, 31, a transgender woman, was walking near 72-11 Roosevelt Ave. when Tapia and Ortiz, who perceived Mora to be gay, allegedly hit her on the head with a metal belt buckle, the DA said.
When 23-year-old Josmar Castro, a friend of Mora’s, intervened, Tapia and Ortiz attempted to physically assault him with the belt buckle, Brown said.
Michael Silverman, Mora’s attorney and head of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised the grand jury’s decision.
“I was attacked because of who I am,” Mora said in a statement. “I want to make sure that this does not happen to other transgender people and I am relieved to know that the people who did this to me will be brought to justice.”
According to Silverman, the defendants repeatedly called Mora gay slurs and did not stop beating her until a passing motorist threatened to call police. Both men were arrested that night and charged with assault and weapons possession, authorities said. They were released on their own recognizance after being arraigned.
The indictment may not have come immediately because Mora did not report the assault as a hate crime initially, Silverman said.
“Her first report was taken in the back of an ambulance,” he said. “That happens frequently — when people don’t tell the full version of the story.”
The indictment makes the attack on Mora the second against a transgender person in Queens to be prosecuted as a hate crime this year. On July 8, two men were arrested and charged with hate crimes on suspicion of throwing rocks and beer bottles at a transgender woman in St. Albans while shouting gay slurs.
The allegedly shouted slurs were the basis for the hate crime charges. State law allows for an attack to be prosecuted as a hate crime if it was based on the victim’s perceived sexual orientation, but it does not include transgender individuals.
A bill that would amend the law to include gender identity has passed the state Assembly, but has not made any legislative progress in the state Senate since February.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.