Arrest made in Jackson Heights transgender beating

By Bill Parry

The suspect wanted in the vicious attack on a transgender woman in Jackson Heights was arrested Tuesday in Knoxville, Tenn., brought back to New York City and charged with two counts of assault, according to the NYPD.

Tomas Rivera, 30, was in a verbal dispute with his girlfriend in front of her home on 93rd Street just north of Roosevelt Avenue around 4 a.m. Nov. 29 when he demanded a cell phone that contained text messages between them, investigators said.

As the argument escalated, Rivera allegedly beat the woman, slamming her head into the sidewalk before fleeing, police said.

The 35-year-old victim was found by police from the 115th Precinct with multiple injuries to her head and face. She was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where she was in critical condition.

Jennifer Louise Lopez, the executive director of Everything Transgender in NYC, and several transgender activists met with the woman Dec. 1.

“She was off life support and on the road to recovery, but we don’t know what happened to that lady since,” Lopez said. “Once the family got involved all of our groups were cut off from her, shutting out the entire transgender community.”

Lopez led a rally with activists from Make the Road New York the night of Dec. 1. A much larger, and emotionally charged, rally took place near the victim’s home on 93rd Street the following week after the NYPD said it was investigating the incident as a domestic assault because the attacker knew the victim.

The case was later investigated by the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force. State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who attended the second rally, was pleased to hear of Rivera’s arrest.

“We are not going to tolerate sadistic crimes against our community,” Peralta said. “There is no room for violence here or anywhere else in the city. It is inconceivable that one of our neighbors was brutally attacked by her boyfriend, someone she trusted. I am glad this vicious crime will not go unpunished and want to thank the Police Department for their work in arresting the suspect.” On Tuesday, the same day Rivera was arrested in Knoxville, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) was leading a protest at 81st Street and Roosevelt Avenue at the same spot where a man was robbed and attacked by three suspects hurling gay slurs last week.

The 31-year-old victim was kicked in the face, head and back and was left unconscious, police said. There have been no arrests and the NYPD was investigating.

It was the latest high profile attack against the Jackson Heights LGBT community.

In November, a 23-year-old gay man was beaten and sexually assaulted by three strangers a day after the transgender woman’s attack.

“Oftentimes we think the police aren’t doing their jobs and then along comes an arrest like this one. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get the other attackers as well,” Dromm said. “When people know you’re going to get caught, it helps reduce the number of incidents.”

Meanwhile, the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Unit was investigating a separate attack on Lopez.

She was riding an uptown D train to 125th Street in Manhattan, Jan. 30, when a woman called her a man and punched her repeatedly in the face. Several riders came to her help, but she required emergency surgery on her left eye.

Lopez is still recovering and her spirits were lifted with word of the Rivera arrest.

“I am excited to hear the news of his arrest and hopefully we’ll get justice,” Lopez said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.