By Joe Anuta
Police arrested a man Sunday in two robberies that police believe are connected to a string of purse snatchings in the 112th Precinct. And the man’s suspected accomplice is still at large, according to the Queens district attorney and the NYPD, whoï»¿ drew ire from the community about their handling of the case.
Brian Rodriguez, 33, of Nassau County was charged with two counts of robbery, according to police, which is ï»¿far fewer than the six muggings in the 112th Precinct, and four in neighboring precincts that officers believed were connected.
The first robbery Rodriguez was charged with occurred Jan. 9 in Rego Park, according to the DA.
The 28-year-old victim told police she was walking down the street when Rodriguez and an unidentified man approached her from behind, according to the criminal complaint filed by the DA. The unidentified male then grabbed the victim from behind while Rodriguez punched her in the face and then stole her handbag containing cell phones and $500, the complaint said.
The second incidence occurred Jan. 13, when another 28-year-old woman was walking down the street in Rego Park and saw a double-parked red sport utility vehicle with its engine running, according to the DA. An unidentified maleapproached her from behind and knocked her to the ground with a punch to the face before grabbing her handbag and dragging her across the ground, the complaint said. The accomplice wrenched the bag from her grip, then got into the SUV driven by Rodriguez and fled the scene, according to the DA.
Deputy Inspector Christopher Tamola, speaking at a packed 112th Precinct Community Council meeting four days before the arrest, said the police believed the 10 muggings were related, although he did not mention that they may have involved more than one person.ï»¿ A lone woman was attacked in each case.
“There are some common denominators here,” Tamola said.
In three of the cases, the victims were listening to iPods when the muggings occurredï»¿.
In each incident, the women were attacked under construction scaffolding or in dimly lit places.
“These are dark, secluded spots,” Tamola said.
Tamola said the attacks usually occurred between the hours of 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. The victims were between the ages of 28 and 62.
But members of the community were not satisfied at the Jan. 19 meeting and said this information could have prevented some of the attacks and calmed public fears if it had been released earlier.
“I got e-mails all week,” said Lynn Schulman, vice chairwoman of Community Board 6.
Schulman said the precinct should have released the information sooner so that community boards and other civic organizations could have alerted the community instead of withholding information until a pattern developed.
“We still had these instances,” Schulman said. “You shouldn’t sacrifice the good for the perfect.”
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) also attended the meeting and said she would have liked to have known about the muggings sooner as well.
“I got calls all week,” she said.
But Tamola, addressing the testy crowd, said the precinct cannot afford to release false information and had to make sure the incidents were related.
“The Police Department can’t just be in the ballpark,” he said. “We have to put out fact.”
Tamola said that before alarming the public, officers had to make sense of the often disparate descriptions of the alleged attacker, who was described as being of several different races and heights at one point and driving different-colored cars.
“That’s the reason we didn’t put out anything,” Tamola said. “We have to try to prevent [rumors].”
But the rumors still spread. One woman had heard the perpetrator brandished a shotgun, and Heidi Chain, president of the community council, wanted to publicly quash a rumor she had heard of men being attacked by the mugger.
“I appreciate the concern,” Tamola said. “The community wants to know what’s going on.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.