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Year in Review: Queens’ top crime stories of 2021

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The scene where one person was killed and two others were injured during a shooting in front of the Umbrella Hotel in Kew Gardens on Jan. 1, 2021. (Photo by Mari Estrella)

QNS is looking back at our top stories throughout 2021, as we look forward to 2022.

In terms of crimes, 2021 saw cases of gun violence, hate crimes against Asian Americans, sexual assault, drug trafficking, a chaotic Rikers Island and more.

Here are some of the top crime stories of 2021 in Queens.

Triple shooting at Kew Gardens hotel marks first homicide of 2021

One person was killed and two others were injured in a shooting at the Umbrella Hotel in Kew Gardens early Jan. 1 morning, marking the first homicide of the new year, according to authorities.

A police spokesperson said the shooting victims were together at the hotel and engaged in a dispute with a group of at least four people before the shooting.

Friends and family, along with former teachers and mentors joined together on Jan. 2, to mourn 20-year-old Robert Williams of Rosedale, who was a star quarterback for the Rosedale Jets.

In October, a Bronx 19-year-old was accused of carrying out the shooting and murder. He faces life in prison if convicted.

The incident caused renewed calls from community members and elected officials for the city to close the Umbrella Hotel, which Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called a “public nuisance that has no place in Kew Gardens or anywhere in our borough or city.”

The city eventually ordered the closure of the Umbrella Hotel.

Woodside church deacon arrested for attempting to have sex with child: DA

Rogelio Vega, a deacon at a Woodside church was cuffed for trying to meet up with someone he believed to be a teenage boy for sex, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced in January.

The 50-year-old man from Maspeth was charged with attempted use of a child in a sexual performance, attempted criminal sexual act, attempted disseminating indecent material to a minor and attempted endangering the welfare of a child on Wednesday, Jan. 20. 

Vega, who works as a deacon at Saint Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Woodside, began communicating with an undercover detective, who Vega believed to be a 14-year-old boy, on the dating app Grindr, according to the charges. He allegedly sent photos of his genitals and requested to meet up for sex, only to be arrested by the undercover detective earlier in January.

Vega faced up to seven years in prison.

Police task force busts suspected Ridgewood heroin mill home to $12 million worth of drugs

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York

Law enforcement officials busted a major heroin mill in Ridgewood in February, the office of New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor announced.

The Ridgewood home was found to have around 39 kilograms of suspected heroin, 1,000 pills of fentanyl and $200,000 in cash inside when a law enforcement team comprised of DEA special agents, NYPD detectives and New York State Police investigators made their way inside on Monday, Feb. 8. The drugs inside the apartment are believed to be worth around $12 million, according to prosecutors.

Four Queens residents were arrested in connection with the stash house on Forest Avenue, including Luis Martinez, who law enforcement officials believe to be the leader of the operation.

Group of teens attacks 13-year-old Asian American boy in suspected hate crime in Flushing

A 13-year-old Asian American boy was the victim of a hate crime, after he was attacked by a group of teens on a Flushing basketball court in March.

The 13-year-old was playing at Bowne Playground when he got into an argument with three other teenage boys, according to the NYPD. After shoving the 13-year-old to the ground, the three other boys took turns throwing a basketball at the young man’s head, cops said.

One of the attackers said, “Stupid f––g Chinese. Go back to your country,” according to the authorities. The three teens then ran off.

The incident was just one in an alarming trend of anti-Asian hate crimes in Queens, the city and throughout the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Queens man indicted on hate crime charge for allegedly attacking Asian woman at Flushing bakery

A Queens man was indicted by a Queens County grand jury on a hate crime and other charges on May 10, for allegedly attacking an Asian woman outside of a Flushing bakery, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

On Feb. 16, Patrick Mateo, 47, and a 52-year-old Chinese woman were in line at a bakery on Roosevelt Avenue when he began to argue with the woman, according to the charges. Then, without provocation, Mateo cursed at the 52-year-old woman and pushed her face.

Mateo then allegedly entered the bakery, grabbed a cardboard box, ran back outside and threw the box at the woman before forcefully shoving her backward onto the ground and into a metal newsstand box on the sidewalk, according to the charges.

The attack left a long gash across the woman’s forehead that required 10 stitches to close, according to authorities.

Patrick Mateo, 47, awaited arraignment in Queens Supreme Court on an indictment charging him with aggravated harassment in the second degree, assault in the third degree and harassment in the second degree. Mateo faced up to one year in jail, if convicted.

Feds indict alleged MS-13 member in brutal 2018 murder of Queens teenager in Flushing park

Federal prosecutors have indicted a 21-year-old Elmhurst man in the infamous 2018 MS-13 murder in Kissena Park. (Courtesy of U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York)

An alleged MS-13 associate from Elmhurst was indicted for murder in the notorious murder of a 17-year-old in Flushing’s Kissena Park, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

A superseding indictment was returned on March 25, in Brooklyn federal court charging Oscar Flores-Mejia, 21, with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the 2018 killing of Queens teenager Andy Peralta.

According to court filings, Peralta was lured into Kissena Park on the evening of April 23, 2018, where he was ambushed in a wooded area by Flores-Mejia and two others. Peralta was believed to be a member of the 18th Street gang. The victim had a tattoo of a crown on his chest which the defendant mistakenly believed to be a symbol of a rival gang. Peralta was repeatedly slashed, stabbed, beaten and strangled.

The charges were the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of MS-13, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, and its leadership in El Salvador and Honduras. The gang has thousands of members across the U.S. comprised mainly of immigrants from Central America.

Rikers Island descends into ‘disorder and chaos’ as Queens lawmaker discovers troubling development

Hours before a scathing report from a federal probe revealed “chaos” on Rikers Island, Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann stepped down from her post on May 31 after three years at the helm of the city’s prison system.

The latest report from the Nunez federal monitor describes “how the uniformed leadership in the jails perpetuates a chaotic environment plagued by operational failures that threaten security and chronic disruptions in basic services, such as recreation and commissary, that cause frustration and despair,” according to The Legal Aid Society.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association blamed gross mismanagement during “one of the darkest chapters in the history of our agency” marked by record levels of jail violence.

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas found another troubling development at the notorious prison complex involving solitary confinement.

Following an unannounced tour of the Rikers Island prison complex on May 7, González-Rojas called out the city’s Board of Correction plan to implement solitary confinement by another name and urged the panel to amend its proposed rules to “truly end solitary confinement” in New York City jails.

Solitary confinement in Rikers is once again at the forefront of Rikers’ woes as many lawmakers call on Mayor-elect Eric Adams to put an end to it. The prison also still faces staffing issues and COVID-19 spread among inmates and staff.

Two teens arrested for beating man in Middle Village

Police arrested a 14-year-old and 15-year-old on gang assault charges for the violent Juniper Valley Park beating that occurred on July 23, and was caught on camera.

A week prior to the arrests, a 44-year-old man was out walking his dog when he saw a group of kids lighting fireworks. According to the police, the victim confronted the group over the noise, leading to a violent beating.

Councilman Robert Holden posted a video of the incident to his Facebook, saying he’d meet with the 104th Precinct to discuss the presence of officers in parks throughout his district.

The video shows a large group of kids overcoming the victim and eventually beating him to the ground. Police said the man was able to get away and only had cuts and bruises.

An NYPD police spokesperson said the two boys from Queens were charged after their parents brought them to the 104th Precinct station house in Ridgewood. 

NYPD releases chilling video of fatal shooting near JFK Airport

The NYPD released a chilling new video of an ambush near JFK Airport on Labor Day that left one man dead. (Photo courtesy of NYPD)

The NYPD on Sept. 9 released a shocking new surveillance video of a seemingly well-planned fatal shooting that was carried out Sept. 6 near JFK Airport.

The haunting images caught on camera show that the shooting death of a 47-year-old St. Albans man was far more nefarious than a random shooting.

A man dressed in Hasidic garb was working on his white Nissan parked near the farmer Skyway Inn in South Ozone Park just before 8 a.m. on Sept. 6.

The suspect has the hood of his car open and he appears to tinker with the engine when the victim, identified as Jermaine Dixon of Georgia, approaches his own Ford Edge parked across the street.

Video shows that as Dixon opens his vehicle, the gunman rushed up behind him and shot him in the head. As Dixon falls into his vehicle, the suspect runs back to his vehicle, slams down the hood, and jumps into the driver’s seat, peeling away from the scene in a black and white Nissan sedan, police said.

EMS responded and pronounced Dixon dead at the scene. The investigation is still ongoing.

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