Hunters Point growing pains on display at public safety meeting

By Bill Parry

Hunters Point residents and people who use Gantry Plaza State Park have been on edge since one of their own posted a warning on social media after witnessing a sexual assault on the night of Aug. 1. Carolyn Sheehan-Gargano heard the attack taking place in the tall sea grass surrounding the popular red Adirondack chairs.

“I ran to the edge of the tall grass and screamed for them to come out,” she wrote. “The attacker charged out and started yelling he killed her and would stab me.”

After running away, Sheehan-Gargano returned and with the assailant gone she helped the woman out of the grass. The victim was in shock and did not want to report the attack to the police, so she walked her to the subway and went to the 108th Precinct, where she was told by four police officers they could do nothing to help unless the victim reported it.

At a meeting of the Hunters Point Civic Association Tuesday night, Deputy Inspector John Travaglia, the commanding officer of the 108th Precinct, and Lt. Jay Jones of the New York State Park Police said they began an investigation after reading the post.

“This is a delicate situation. We do have the allegation of a sex crime that has taken place,” Travaglia said. “But the investigation doesn’t have a victim yet. There’s not much more we can talk about in regards to that.”

Leslie Wright, the state Parks Department commissioner, told the crowd that as soon as the Park Police gave the go-ahead, “we went in and cut down the tall grass and we’re addressing the lighting situation and placed orders for every part and bulb. In the meantime, we’ve put in temporary lighting.”

Residents said more needed to be done and they began listing a litany of complaints from the sale of crack inside the park to speeding cars on Center Boulevard. Many in the crowd said they were new to the neighborhood and were surprised there was not a better police presence in and around the park.

“This whole area has become a major destination for drugs and drinking on the weekend, it’s getting like Coney Island, and it’s only going to get worse as the neighborhood grows,” one woman said. “In the last eight months I don’t even go out after dark.”

Travaglia bristled at some of the complaints. He had begun the evening discussing historically low levels of overall crime in his precinct with burglary down 31 percent in the last year. Jones was taken aback as well.

“I’m learning a lot of stuff here that I haven’t heard before like crack dealing in the park,” he said, urging the residents to approach him with such complaints. Travaglia told them to take part in the Precinct Council meetings on the last Tuesday of every month.

“That’s where you can bring your complaints directly to me,” he said.

Several residents complained that those meetings are held at the Sunnyside Community Services center, which is too far way. The facility is just four stations away on the No. 7 subway line.

Diane Ballek, the Precinct Council president, offered to move the meeting to Long Island City every other month. Jones gave the number of the Park Police desk 212-694-3620 to report incidents at Gantry.

Sheehan-Gardner took the microphone.

“I am the person that witnessed the attack in the park,” she said. “I’m not like a trained first responder. Not having a phone number to tell me what to do was very upsetting.”

She offered to design a poster with all of the phone numbers that could then be posted throughout the parks.

Towards the end of the public meeting, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who sat quietly most of the evening writing down all of the complaints, said the mayor should hold a town meeting in Hunters Point.

“We need to get the mayor and all his commissioners here and make sure he understands that this is a neighborhood, this is a community, that he can’t just have proposals for new buildings but instead he needs to make sure the resources match the number of people who are coming here.”

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

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