4 shot, 33 arrested and dozens cited in NYC mayhem

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Hundreds of young people spilled into midtown Manhattan near Times Square early Monday, brawling and shooting guns after the New York International Auto Show in an annual night of mayhem the mayor called “wilding.”

Four people were shot and 33 were arrested, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct on the streets not far from the Jacob A. Javits Center, where the auto show is held. Three men and a woman were arrested later Monday on gang assault charges related to one of the shootings, police said. It wasn’t clear whether anyone who fired shots was among those arrested. Another 23 were issued summons for disorderly conduct or were given juvenile reports and released.

It’s not clear why the annual event often leads to violence in neighboring areas, but the police department had additional officers on patrol because of problems during past shows dating to 2003, chief spokesman Paul J. Browne said. Last year, there were 27 arrests on the same night. In earlier years arrest numbers ran in the low 20s, Browne said. A teenager was stabbed in a similar ruckus in 2006, and in 2007, another teen was slashed in the arm.

Browne described those arrested Monday as “young men looking for trouble” after the auto show.

The fracas rattled businesses near busy districts in Herald Square, as well as nearby Times Square, where an armed street hustler was shot dead by police after exchanging gunfire on the street in December.

“You know it’s the cost of doing business,” said Angus McIndoe, owner of the restaurant bearing his name next to Broadway theaters. “It’s not the first time there has been nutty activity in Times Square.”

Auto show spokesman Chris Sams said no one stood out as suspicious Sunday at the show, which runs until April 11 and attracts more than 1 million people.

“We had an amazing crowd, a very family-oriented crowd. The type of person who makes an auto show great, people listening to the presenters,” he said.

Security at the show is tight, and officials work with police, Sams said. Visitors are checked when they arrive.

Most of the people arrested were men in their 20s from boroughs other than Manhattan. At least two were known gang members, Browne said; the four people arrested on gang assault charges — three men ages 17 to 23 and a teenage girl — were not believed to have fired any shots, police said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the night’s events as “wilding,” using a word created by the media during the notorious 1989 rape of the woman known as the Central Park jogger. Five men were charged with gang-raping her, but their convictions were thrown out in 2002.

“We loaded the area up with police, but they can’t be everywhere,” he said. “We’re not going to tolerate it. … This is just a bunch of people who shouldn’t be on the streets if they behave this way, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office said 43 defendants were awaiting arraignment, but those included arrests made in other precincts that may be unrelated.

It was the second major instance of gunfire in the area in recent months, where police have worked for years to stop petty crimes and hustlers targeting tourists. Police and a street hustler armed with a machine pistol exchanged shots in December in Times Square — shattering a Broadway theater ticket window and scattering crowds — before police fatally shot the man.

Tourists in the area said Monday they weren’t too concerned.

“I think compared to other cities, this is a pretty safe place,” said Kai Tienmann, of Berlin, visiting with his son. “Of course anywhere in a safe city, can happen something like this. So much people here. A lot of police, also a lot of police cameras.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Markey from Dublin said he wasn’t worried.

“I’m from Dublin; there are a lot of shootings there,” He said. “All the big cities have that problem.”

Overall, crime in the city is still at record lows despite an uptick in murders, felony assaults and rapes in the first quarter of this year. Jittery lawmakers are worried about crime rising, especially as the ranks are decreased at the nation’s largest police department.

“We need to get in front of this growing epidemic before we find ourselves reliving the bad old days of the 1970s,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said.

There were no reports of tourists or business owners being attacked in the melee. Police weren’t sure how many of those arrested knew each other or what sparked the shootings, which began shortly after midnight. Officers made arrests starting around 10:30 p.m. Sunday and continued into early Monday.

A man was shot in the ankle at Eighth Avenue and 40th Street around 12:10 a.m. Shortly after, a woman was hit with a BB gun several blocks northeast at Seventh Avenue and 51st Street. About two hours later, two women, both 19, were shot — one in the elbow and another in the thigh — near Seventh Avenue and 34th Street.

The woman hit with the BB gun was treated and released; the others were in stable condition, police said.