September 13, 2006

Hampton Bays Stabbing — A Hate Crime?

Two men were arrested Sunday morning, charged with repeatedly stabbing a Latino, and trying to rob a female bartender at knifepoint.

The pair could be facing stiff penalties: Since the county got tough with its hate crime laws, the pair could now be facing even longer sentences in the pen if convicted.

The drama unfolded at 1:45 a.m. on Sunday when, according to Southampton Town Police, they received a report of a disturbance at Gilligan's Saloon on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays.

According to accounts, bar patrons were in the process of heading home for the night when two male suspects approached a female bartender who was closing up and confronted her with a knife.

The bartender "retreated back into the bar" and called police, they said. The violence escalated as the two defendants, identified as Thomas Nicotra, 39, of Hampton Bays, and Kenneth Porter, 30, of Mastic Beach, allegedly followed a group of Hispanic individuals who were leaving the bar, menacing them with knives and yelling ethnic epithets.

The night got bloodier after the pair turned on patron Carlos Rivera. However, on Monday Rivera said he had no recollection of any racial slurs. Instead, he said, he believes he was hurt because "I was trying to help the girl" during the robbery attempt. "They wanted the money." Rivera also confirmed the suspects had both asked him for drugs; he told them he did not use narcotics. He said he "feels good" the pair were arrested. The victim was in stable condition as of press time.

The suspects fled on foot after the alleged stabbing; cops caught up with them and arrested the duo in the vicinity of Ponquogue Avenue and Good Ground Road in Hampton Bays at approximately 2:15 a.m.

The pair was charged with attempted robbery in the first degree, a Class C felony, as well as two counts of assault in the first degree as a hate crime, a class B felony, and menacing in the second degree as a hate crime, a class A misdemeanor.

According to Bob Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney, the charge of menacing becomes a class E felony at sentencing if the pair is convicted; the defendants could get a maximum of one and one-third to four years at sentencing.

And, as for the assault charges, each defendant, at sentencing, would "have to do at least eight years, because it's a hate crime," he said. The crime is normally punishable by 5 to 25 years, but the hate crime label ups the ante.

Southampton Town Police Detective Sergeant Randy Hintze refuted Rivera's recollection that no racial slurs were used. He said other eyewitnesses said the defendants were menacing the Hispanics, "threatening them with knives and yelling ethnic epithets."

And, he added, "there was no other motive than pure hatred on the part of the individuals involved," though both the bartender and the stabbing victim said robbery appeared to be the motivating factor.

Hintze said it was the first time in the history of the STPD that there has been a recorded hate crime regarding an attack against Hispanics. "I know the public perception is always that, as soon as it involves two different groups or people from different ethnicities or race, and something bad happens, it's automatically a hate crime. But that's not always the case," he said.

The defendants were arraigned Monday morning and the case was forwarded to the major case bureau of the DA's office. A grand jury will be seated to decide on the charge and, said Hintze, "the grand jury process will determine what happens next."

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