A man who started a stampede at a crime-ridden Manhattan park night when he wielded a Taser and a knife was freed without bail by a judge on Sunday, as his lawyer claimed he acted in self defense.
Jason McDermott, 42, appeared before a judge in Manhattan Criminal Court on menacing, reckless endangerment and weapons charges.
He was in Washington Square Park on Friday night – which has hit the headlines in June over rowdy all-night raves, impromptu boxing matches, slashings, stabbings and drug taking, to the fury of well-heeled local residents.
The court heard on Sunday that, shortly after midnight on Friday night, McDermott pulled out a knife and a Taser, which police said was disguised as a flashlight.
Horrified onlookers, seeing those weapons, fled in terror, leaving a 43-year-old woman trampled.
She was seen with blood pouring from the side of her head, and was taken to Bellevue Hospital with cuts, scrapes and bruises. She was treated and later released.
McDermott was arrested at around 12:40am on Saturday morning.
‘Last night in Washington Square Park, a man began threatening a group of people with a taser disguised as a flashlight causing them to flee to safety,’ . In the panic, a woman tripped and was injured. The suspect, who was also armed with a knife, was arrested by @NYPD6Pct officers.
Prosecutor Taylor Brisco told Judge Abraham Clott that McDermott claimed to police: ‘It was self-defense. They were running at me. I have a knife on me for self-defense.’
Jason McDermott, 42, was arrested at 12:40am on Saturday morning, after he brandished a Taser and a knife. On Sunday a judge released him without bail on menacing, reckless endangerment and weapons charges
But McDermott’s lawyer claimed he was the one who was being victimized.
‘He was the subject of an attack,’ said his lawyer, Damjan Panovski.
‘He has no criminal record whatsoever, no contact with the criminal justice system.’
He called the incident ‘purely self-defense.’
Prosecutors did not ask for bail in McDermott’s case — but requested supervised release, which the judge granted.
Judge Clott also said the case suggests McDermott ‘has trouble working with the ordinary standards of legal behavior.’
McDermott refused to comment as he left court, The New York Post reported.
From Memorial Day weekend onwards, the usual midnight closure of the park was brought forward to 10pm, in a bid to end the loud late-night drinking and partying, and limit the antisocial behavior. The curfew saw violent confrontations with the police, and running battles in the streets of Greenwich Village as officers forced people from the park at 10pm.
This weekend the 10pm closure was abandoned, in favor of the usual midnight locking up – which does not appear to be enforced.
McDermott’s lawyer on Sunday insisted that his client was the one who was attacked, and insisted he acted in self defense
McDermott is seen in the early hours of Saturday being arrested and taken from Washington Square Park
NYPD tweeted a photo of the Taser, disguised as a flashlight, and a knife with a curved blade. A stampede begun when ;cDermott brandished the weapons in Washington Square Park
FRIDAY: A 43-year-old woman was left bloodied after being trampled as revelers fled from a man wielding a knife and a taser
A 43-year-old woman was seen being carried from the scene by friends in the early hours of Saturday, after she was knocked to the ground during the stampede
The woman was seen with blood pouring from her face Friday night ad NYPD officers went to her aid in the park
Police are seen on Friday night stationed in Washington Square Park, before the stampede begun
FRIDAY: Locals have told how the park changes after dark, from a calm, relaxing atmosphere during the day to chaos when the sun goes down
Friday night’s stampede was just another episode in a troubled park. On Saturday, large crowds gathered there again, without incident.
On June 5, revelers clashed with police attempting to impose a 10pm curfew, leading to 23 people being arrested and eight officers injured.
And on June 11, two men were stabbed during a 10-person brawl. The following morning a 77 year-old cook at the nearby Washington Square Diner was shoved into a plate glass window after kicking a troublemaker out.
On Wednesday, the NYPD’s 6th Precinct called an emergency meeting where hundreds of nearby residents expressed outrage over the non-stop partying in the park.
In City Hall on Wednesday, Rodney Harrison, the NYPD’s Chief of Department – the highest ranking uniformed officer on the force – told reporters that fliers would be handed out to park visitors reminding them to clear out by the midnight closing time.
On Saturday afternoon, Christa Shaub, who has lived in the area for 15 years, and Amy Heinemams, who has lived in there for six years, said the partying in the park is nothing new especially during the summer months, but ‘it’s exaggerated post-pandemic.’
JUNE 5: Two weeks ago revelers clashed with police attempting to impose a 10pm curfew, leading to 23 people being arrested and eight cops injured.
Christa Shaub (left) and Amy Heinemams (right) say partying in the park is not new, but it has exaggerated post-pandemic
Guitarist Richie says he has been coming to this spot for about eight years, but now makes a point to be out of the park no later than 5pm
One group was seen walking around carrying a sign reading ‘High 5 me if you like weed’, and offering people hand sanitizer
‘This is an open park, but you need to have respect for people,’ Shaub said. ‘There needs to be regulations.’
While they think the park is safe during the day, Heinemams said, ‘I won’t walk through the park at night.’
Karen Bartolo, who’s now in her late 50s, has a deep reverence for the park’s rich history and said she’s been performing music in Washington Square Park since she was 15. Every weekend she was here.
They played music, smoked pot and had a good time, she said. They played music until 2am, but there weren’t amps and large bass systems that can blast music for blocks.
But what’s happening Washington Square now ‘is horrible,’ she said.
She said: ‘At night time this park used to be the place. But now, people are crazy. In the day even. But at nighttime? Forget about it.’
She added: ‘In the ’60s, we had our problems, but we came together. We need to come together now.’
Bartolo, along with multiple other park goers who spoke to the DailyMail.com Saturday afternoon, talked about an escalating level of hostility between police, revelers and the park’s neighbors.
There are too many ‘aggressive police,’ she said, but the kids ‘are out of control’ and egging on law enforcement.
‘It can’t get violent,’ Bartolo said, ‘otherwise we are a lost cause.’
In a corner of the park under the cover of trees and surrounded by shrubbery just south of the arches, a group of about a dozen old timers jam out with an acoustic guitar and dance to live Bob Mellencamp songs.
The guitarist and one of the singers – who said his name was Richie – said he’s been coming to this spot for about eight years and said others in the group have been doing this for decades.
They all live in the apartments across the street. They knew the homeless who roamed the park by name and essentially adopted a homeless person to make they ate and were OK.
But Richie said they make a point to be out of the park no later than 5pm.
‘We’re not going to deal with what’s going on night and don’t want any part of it,’ Richie told DailyMail.com.
Hundreds of revelers descended on Washington Square Park again on Saturday night for another after-dark rave.
A woman speaking through a megaphone shouted: ‘I just wanna say to all my black people, happy Juneteenth and to the NYPD, suck my D.’
One group was seen walking around carrying a sign reading ‘High 5 me if you like weed’, and offering people hand sanitizer.
Police were gathered under the iconic arch at Washington Square Park on Saturday night
Some of those who went to the park after dark were making a music video
It is the latest in a series of nightly parties thrown in the iconic park, which have left local residents fuming
Partygoers were seen playing in the park’s fountain during the latest in a series of nightly parties thrown in the iconic park
The girl in the group, Samantha Rose, 25, said: ‘I usually see music and dance parties in the evening. Last night we had some light saber fights.’
Rose, a barista who lives in the Bronx, said didn’t start coming to the park until COVID.
‘There’s been a lot of people on acid in the park lately not gonna lie but that’s been going on since the 60s.’
Tensions have boiled over in recent weeks between revelers at the rowdy late-night events and neighbors.
But Rose insists the events only got out of hand when police started clashing with the partygoers.
Rose said: ‘The city is noisy. Even after those first few days, police told residents to back off because it wasn’t an issue.
‘The first couple nights there were complaints about he noise. It wasn’t disturbing until they were running past the outdoor dining tripping over tables to avoid cops.
‘It’s a little extreme for them to go from nothing to shoving people in fountains.’
On Monday, mayor Bill De Blasio downplayed the violence and chaos at Washington Square Park in recent weeks, telling reporters that he believes the situation will resolve itself ‘naturally.’
With bars and restaurants facing tight restrictions over the last year due to the pandemic, it transformed into a popular party destination.
Now, as the parties and reports of crime increase – and COVID-19 restrictions have lifted – residents and ravers are coming to blows.
On the one side, young revelers say the park is public property. They question why they cannot use the space to enjoy parties and why the wealthy Greenwich Village homeowners nearby should have the power to decide who has access to it.
On the other side, residents claim the park has become a site of increased drug use and violence, leaving them scared to walk around the area and left grappling with the noise later into the night.
Revelers returned to Washington Square on Saturday night and stayed long after the park’s closing time of midnight
The once-beautiful park has become a war-zone between residents and party-goers. It is pictured on Sunday morning
The morning after the night before: Trash is seen in the park on Sunday morning after the drug-fueled rave in Washington Square Park
The violence in Washington Square Park comes as the NYPD struggle with a surge in violent crime.
Felony assaults are up eight per cent for the first six months of 2021, compared to the same period last year, while rapes are up by 3 per cent.
NYPD data shows shootings in the Big Apple have increased by 64 per cent year-on-year, while murders are up 13 per cent.
The numbers are disturbing in themselves, but the violence has intensified and taken place in public places, like parks and subways, and in front of witnesses and surveillance cameras.
Earlier this week, former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton warned American cities, including New York City, are in for a ‘very, long dangerous summer’ as murder rates have skyrocketed
And there aren’t any short- or long-term answers, Bratton told CNBC’s Shepard Smith on Monday.
‘Unlike the last crime epidemic that took decades to build up to the early ’90s, this one has occurred, literally, overnight,’ Bratton said.
‘It’s like the virus, it’s literally, out of nowhere, and so solutions are not immediately apparent.’
Bratton, who earned the nickname ‘supercop’ for helping clean up the streets of New York City and Los Angeles, issued his warning on Monday.
In May, Governor Andrew Cuomo called the surge in violent crime a ‘major problem’ and said unless the NYPD gets a handle on it soon, the city would become undesirable.
‘New Yorkers don’t feel safe and they don’t feel safe because the crime rate is up. It’s not that they are being neurotic or overly sensitive – they are right,’ he said.
Washington Square Park through the ages
Nestled in the heart of Manhattan, Washington Square Park is known for its iconic arch and fountain.
But long before they were built, it was an area of marsh land with a natural waterway named Minetta Creek home to fresh trout.
The Native American Lenape tribe cultivated the land in the 1600s before it was taken over by the Dutch.
The Dutch then offered some of the land to African-born slaves they freed in 1642 – but the free black farmers then lost the land again under English rule.
In 1797, the City’s Common Council converted the land into a Potter’s Field – the name for an area where the poor were buried. The site is also thought to have been the site of public executions.
Then, in 1826, the area around the park was converted into a militia training ground named Washington Military Parade Ground. The next year, some parts were turned into a public park.
Famously, Samuel F.B. Morse gave a public demonstration of his new invention – the telegraph – in the park in 1838
After the City’s Department of Public Parks was formed to look after the city’s parks in 1870, it underwent a major redesign with curved paths and shaded areas to provide an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
The iconic marble Washington Arch was built between 1890-1892 and other monuments were erected over the coming years.
Throughout the 20th century, the park increasingly became a site of protest and performances with labor unions marching after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, and the Beat generation and folkies setting up in the park.
Later redesigns followed and the Arch was restored in the noughties.
The park, now named after George Washington who was inaugurated as the first US president in New York City in 1789, continues to be a popular place for protests and cultural events.