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NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force was in a downward spiral for years


Korean-American Esther Lee was minding her own business riding  thesubway in Manhattan when a fellow passenger got in her face.

‘Who wants to touch you, you miserable f***ing carrier,’ the man screamed as he spat in her face.

With the Covid pandemic in full force, Lee, 45, knew exactly what the man meant. She is Asian, and attacks on Asians have risen alarmingly since former President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Covid as ‘kung flu’ or ‘the China virus.’

In Lee’s mind there was no doubt that hate for her race had been the prime reason for the man’s actions – but police assigned to her case didn’t see it that way. 

The man hadn’t called her ‘a miserable f***ing Asian carrier,’ she was told. There was no proof that his vitriol was fueled by her race. The case should be dealt with as a run-of-the-mill harassment. 

‘After this kind of treatment I feel incredibly defeated and have nowhere to turn,’ she told DailyMail.com.

Lee’s case — and the task force’s mishandling of it — directly led to last month’s ‘reassignment’ of the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force (HCTF) head, Jessica Corey, after just a year in the post.

Korean-American Esther Lee was told she was ‘blowing her case out of proportion’ after she reported that a man had spat in her face and called her a ‘f***ing carrier’

Jessica Corey was like a 'square peg in a round hole' leading the Hate Crimes Task Force, said one detective who worked under her

Jessica Corey was like a ‘square peg in a round hole’ leading the Hate Crimes Task Force, said one detective who worked under her

New York Mayor Eric Adams ‘reassigned’ Corey, saying ‘I don’t want a leader in that area that starts off with saying why something is not a possible hate crime’

Officers even blamed Leefor provoking the man by pulling out her iPhone and recording the October incident, something she did because she wanted to preserve it as evidence

Officers even blamed Leefor provoking the man by pulling out her iPhone and recording the October incident, something she did because she wanted to preserve it as evidence 

But the appointment of Jessica Corey was not the only probem with a department ill-quipped to deal with the burgeoning number of attacks against Hispanics, Asians, Jews and gays.

A DailyMail investigtion has uncovered that the Hate Crimes Task force been marginalized for years as politicians and top brass gave it low priority with inexperienced staff and inadequate resources.

While Corey may have been the wrong person for the job, the task force has been in slow but steady decline well before she was appointed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in March 2021.

Past and present officers say the task force has suffered from a lack of respect within the NYPD.

In 2014 it was shifted out of One Police Plaza and into the hallway of a housing precinct in Alphabet City on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It was eventually moved to its own offices in another station house, but staff is overwhelmed and lacking experienced executive leadership, Michael Osgood, a retired NYPD deputy chief who led the task force for 16 years, told DailyMail.com.

‘My position is do not blame the unit or its personnel for its current problem, blame the last administration,’ Osgood told DailyMail.com.

‘Over the past eight years, everyone from (Commissioners) Bill Bratton, Jimmy O’Neill to Dermot Shea have marginalized the Hate Crime Task Force.

‘It’s also clear that de Blasio and his commissioners failed to make the proper adjustments to the unit to counter the hate crime surge that has occurred the last two years.’

Now the hope is that Mayor Eric Adam’s and his new Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the first woman to head the country’s largest police department, will restore the morale and standing of the HCTF. 

Some saw it as a good sign that the new person in charge, Andrew Arias, has solid investigative experience, but said it will time to overcome his inexperience dealing with hate crimes.

“He’s still learning the ins-and-outs of hate crimes, but he’s got an investigative background that is really fundamental to run a unit like this,” a detective said.   

NYPD's own figures show how hate crimes rocketed during the pandemic

NYPD’s own figures show how hate crimes rocketed during the pandemic

 A second longtime hate crimes detective spoke of the unit’s time in Alphabet City: ‘We had no desk, one phone line and all our notes and evidence were packed in boxes and lined up on the wall,’ he said.

‘One of the guys brought a desk up from the basement and put it in the hall, and we were saying, ‘What are we doing here? We are doing God’s work at ungodly hours, what are we doing here in the hallway?’

‘That was demoralizing. That was the beginning of the downward spiral.

‘It breaks my heart to see what happened with the unit and how they’ve treated these crimes, the way they’ve devalued the unit,’ the detective, who spoke on condition of anonymity added.

‘They were bringing police officers into the unit with no investigative experience. They were just bringing in inexperienced people to fill the holes.’

Eventually the HCTF moved into offices on the third floor of the 7th precinct station house.

‘After the eviction from 1PP, there was a breakdown in how the information flowed, another detective said. ‘Our connectivity to the 13th and 14th floor [home to top NYPD brass] was severed.

‘It communicated to us that we were not important. We were marginalized.’

Insiders say Corey was just the wrong person for the job because she had little prior investigative experience and was new to hate crimes. They saw her promotion as evidence of the department’s low regard for their work, even as bias cases were rising to their highest levels in a generation.

Bias crimes are especially devastating because they impact an entire community, said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Foundation

Bias crimes are especially devastating because they impact an entire community, said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Foundation

One detective who worked under Corey said: ‘I have no idea why they chose her for that position. It seems like they were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. She came from a patrol background.’

The HCTF shakeup comes as the city is experiencing a terrifying surge in hate crimes, with 524 complaints last year — a 96 percent spike.

Asian hate crimes skyrocketed 343 percent from 2020 to 2021, with 133 people targeted. 

Hate crimes against Jewish people have also surged, with police logging 56 suspected anti-Semitic crimes for February, quadruple the same month last year. There was only one anti-Hispanic hate crime reported in 2020. Last year there were eight.

Some of the attacks have proved deadly.

Michelle Go, 40, a Deloitte consultant, was shoved under a moving subway train by a homeless man in Times Square on January 15.

We had no desk, one phone line and all our notes and evidence were packed in boxes and lined up on the wall 

Christina Yuna Lee, 35, was stabbed to death February 13 by a serial criminal after she was followed into her apartment building in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Yao Pan Ma, 61, died on December 31, eight months after he was brutally beaten by a career criminal as he was collecting cans to make money for his family.  

And GuiYing Ma, 61, an Asian grandmother who was sweeping her sidewalk in Jackson Heights, was smashed in the face with a rock in November and died from her injuries February 22.

Just last week a 29-year-old Asian man was attacked with a hammer, allegedly by Christian Jeffers, 48, at Manhattan’s 14th Street subway station. Jeffers, who was wearing a wig and purple lipstick, has been charged with second-degree assault and faces possible hate crimes charges.

‘He was looking for trouble,’ the victim said. ‘We’re trying to live our lives as well as we can, you know, and it’s just unfortunate that we have to face all these adversities, along with just all the struggles in life.’

The HCTF has faced criticism for the fact that many of the cases they investigate remain unsolved. There were 524 complaints last year, and only 219 people were arrested.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who found himself in hot water after downgrading many crimes and saying that prison should be a ‘last resort,’ announced in January that his office will expand its hate crimes unit to help address the increase in racially-motivated attacks.

‘What I’ve heard as I’ve traveled throughout Manhattan is that there’s a reluctance to come forward to law enforcement from some communities, and some people are more willing to go forward through a community group,’ Bragg said recently.

Deloitte consultant Michelle Go, 40, was shoved under a moving subway train by a homeless man in Times Square on January 15

Deloitte consultant Michelle Go, 40, was shoved under a moving subway train by a homeless man in Times Square on January 15

Christina Yuna Lee, 35, was stabbed to death February 13 by a serial criminal after she was followed into her apartment building in Manhattan's Chinatown

Christina Yuna Lee, 35, was stabbed to death February 13 by a serial criminal after she was followed into her apartment building in Manhattan’s Chinatown

Yao Pan Ma, 61, (pictured in April) died on December 31, eight months after he was attacked

Yao Pan Ma, 61, (pictured in April) died on December 31, eight months after he was attacked

Gui Ying Ma, 61, died after being smashed in the face with a rock as she swept the sidewalk in Brooklyn

Gui Ying Ma, 61, died after being smashed in the face with a rock as she swept the sidewalk in Brooklyn

Christian Jeffers, 48, allegedly attacked an Asian man at at Manhattan's 14th Street subway station. Jeffers, who was wearing a wig and purple lipstick, has been charged with second-degree assault

Christian Jeffers's mug shot

Christian Jeffers, 48, allegedly attacked an Asian man at at Manhattan’s 14th Street subway station. Jeffers, who was wearing a wig and purple lipstick, has been charged with second-degree assault and faces possible hate crimes charges. He is pictured right in his mug shot

‘We are both focusing on building cases and prosecuting cases and are also mindful that we might not be hearing about everything that we want to be, so strengthening the community ties as well.’

Adams — himself a 20-year NYPD veteran — sounded similar themes in meetings with community leaders, 

‘I don’t want a leader in that area that starts off with saying why something is not a possible hate crime,’ Mayor Eric Adams said as he announced that Corey was being moved sideways.

‘I wanted a new face there, a new vision.’ 

In Corey’s place he appointed Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias from Manhattan South Narcotics. Arias helped lead a probe into NYPD arrests made during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.   

‘We believe Adams’s heart is in the right place,’ said a veteran investigator of the leadership change. ‘But it’s going to take time to fix the problems. The NYPD has to take a proactive approach, beef up the experience level and make the task force a priority.’

Osgood, who led hate crimes from 2002 to 2018, had around 20 detectives when he left. That figure hasn’t significantly changed despite the surge in hate crimes.

'It didn't help when our former president called COVID-19 the China virus,' said Jo-Ann Yoo of the Asian American Federation

‘It didn’t help when our former president called COVID-19 the China virus,’ said Jo-Ann Yoo of the Asian American Federation

‘It gets overwhelming,’ a current detective said. ‘There’s always something else coming in when you close a case out.’

Insiders say Corey was unpopular within the task force. ‘I don’t think she had any experience with the detective bureau, yet here she was micromanaging us,’ one detective told DailyMail.com.

‘She had this ability to be very condescending and disregard the knowledge of detectives and supervisors under her.’

According to insiders, she would frequently go over the heads of investigators and often contact district attorneys’ offices herself to discuss cases.

‘She called the DA up, usurp detectives,’ one investigator said. ‘It’s almost like she was playing detective.

Another said: ‘She hindered investigations because you really couldn’t have detectives working on the cases with the CO questioning you every step of the way.

Others claim Corey was more concerned with getting clicks on Twitter for task force postings than pursuing cases.

‘She seemed more interested in the number of views and likes she got for tweets than actual investigations,’ another detective said.

A couple detectives transferred out during Corey’s tenure, which insiders largely attribute to a dissatisfaction with her leadership.   

At the same time, the HCTF has faced criticism for its unsolved cases.

Retired deputy chief Michael Osgood, said: 'Do not blame the unit or its personnel for its current problem, blame the (de Blasio) administration,'

Retired deputy chief Michael Osgood, said: ‘Do not blame the unit or its personnel for its current problem, blame the (de Blasio) administration,’

Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias was appointed to head the NY{D's Hate Crimes Task Force afer the outsing of his predecessor Jessica Corey

Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias was appointed to head the NY{D’s Hate Crimes Task Force afer the outsing of his predecessor Jessica Corey

Jessica Corey spoke at a press conference last March about the huge spike in anti-Asian hate crime in New York

Jessica Corey spoke at a press conference last March about the huge spike in anti-Asian hate crime in New York

Now the hope is that new NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the first woman to head the country's largest police department, will restore the morale and standing of the HCTF.

Now the hope is that new NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the first woman to head the country’s largest police department, will restore the morale and standing of the HCTF.

A detective on the unit explained that’s largely due to the difficulty of building a case and the fact victims often can’t identify their attacker.

‘A lot of times we’ll track down who we know is the perp in the case, but we still need the victim to ID the perp in order for this to go to court,’ the investigator said.

‘When people go through these hate crimes, their senses shut down, they run, they avert their eyes. We understand that, but it also makes it hard to go and make the arrest when a victim can’t pick the perp out of a lineup.’

‘What people don’t understand is that it’s a hard crime to deal with,’ another veteran investigator said. ‘If you just rob somebody, I don’t need to prove your motive. If you’re arresting someone for a hate crime, I have to prove motivation. The quality of the investigation is essential.’

Statistics show that hate crimes have roughly tracked to the overall spike in crime throughout the Big Apple.

Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Foundation, said bias crimes are especially devastating because they impact an entire community.

‘Right now, Asian Americans live with a lot of fear and anxiety,’ she told DailyMail.com. ‘Any time you go outside, you need to brace yourself.

‘It didn’t help when our former president called COVID-19 the China virus,’ Yoo added. ‘And there’s this assumption that we’re not from here, that we’re not Americans. That’s a dangerous idea to have in someone’s head because it makes it easy to harm somebody.’

She called the spike in hate crimes alarming, but said the actual number is likely higher. Many victims don’t come forward, and some that do interact with officers who don’t take them seriously.

‘Obviously there has been criticism (of police) from the community,’ Yoo said. ‘We’re told to report an attack when it happens, but police are not taking the reports. There’s curbside trials, where police are making determinations right there on the sidewalks where the victims are standing there trying to report these things.’

She welcomed the mayor’s decision to change leadership of the unit.

‘I owe a call to the new head of the Hate Crimes Task Force,’ Yoo said. ‘We’re going to sit down to talk about what needs to be done. Number one is community outreach, especially in Asian enclaves. We are confused because we get mixed messaged. 

‘Somebody gets punched and because no words are spoken, police say it’s not a hate crime.’

'After this kind of treatment I feel incredibly defeated and have nowhere to turn,' Esther Lee told DailyMail.com

‘After this kind of treatment I feel incredibly defeated and have nowhere to turn,’ Esther Lee told DailyMail.com

Osgood, whose office investigated 5,000 cases during his tenure, recommended several changes he says are vital to improve the task force, including doubling the number of detectives, adding investigative sergeants, and moving the unit back to 1PP. He also recommends a city Department of Investigations audit of cases fielded by the HCTF to determine whether they were properly classified.

‘My experience tells me they may find a number of misclassified complaints,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Osgood suggested rigorous hate crime training for patrol cops, and a media blitz to counteract negative information blaming China for the pandemic.

He said it’s good that the new commander, Arias, has investigative experience, but believes it could take him a couple years to understand the nuances of the hate crimes statute and how to apply it to investigations.

‘Ninety percent of the time it’s self-evident that it’s a hate crime, like when swastikas get painted on a synagogue, or a group chases a person of a different identity down the street and beats him,’ he said. 

‘But 10 to 15 percent of the time, it’s hazy. That’s where skill comes in to make a proper precision judgment if it’s a hate crime or not. You need a broad understanding of the hate crime statute.’

New York’s statute defines a hate crime as any offense that is ‘substantially motivated’ by a belief or perception of a person’s identity.

Another veteran hate crime detective said the success of the HCTF will send a powerful message to victims that have lost confidence in the department, as well as suspects who don’t fear punishment.

‘Once people know hate crimes will not be tolerated at all, I believe there will be a drop in hate crimes,’ he said. ‘And the communities affected, whether Asian, African American, gay, Jewish, Muslim, will feel the difference. They’ll feel like the NYPD is listening. That makes a big difference in the community. I’ve seen it first-hand.’

In Esther Lee’a case officers even blamed her for provoking the man by pulling out her iPhone and recording the October incident, something she did because she wanted to preserve it as evidence.

She was also told she was exaggerating and ‘blowing the incident out of proportion.’

‘I reached the highest commanding cops in the hate crimes unit,’ Lee told DailyMail.com. ‘If they’re telling me it’s my fault, that I’m overreacting, that I can’t prove his intent, what else am I supposed to do?’ 

Now Lee says she’s hoping her experience will serve as a lesson for the NYPD. With her persistence, a civilian review panel designated her case a hate crime in late December, nearly three months after she reported it.

‘I didn’t tell my story to get someone a ‘routine reshuffling,’ she said, using the NYPD’s official terminology for Corey’s transfer.

‘I wanted to tell my story because the NYPD’s system for handling and identifying hate crimes is flawed.’



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