Friday, December 19, 2008

Queens Councilman Is Charged With Assault by Ray Rivera and Sewell Chan- City Room Blog -

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City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat who was elected to the State Senate last month, was arrested and charged with assault early Friday morning in connection with an injury to his girlfriend, law enforcement officials said.

Hiram Monserrate was elected to the City Council in 2001 and to the State Senate last month. (Photo: Uli Seit for The New York Times)

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s top spokesman, said that Mr. Monserrate had been arrested and charged with assault in the first degree.

Officials said that Mr. Monserrate, 41, had taken his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, 30, to Long Island Jewish Medical Center with what appeared to be a serious injury in or around her left eye.

Ms. Giraldo told hospital staff members that it was Mr. Monserrate who had assaulted her, officials said. It appeared that she had been punched and slashed in or around her left eye with a shard of glass, and officials said it took 20 to 40 stitches to close the wound. A doctor at the hospital, which straddles the border between Queens and Nassau County, called the police at 4:50 a.m.

New York City police detectives arrived at the hospital, arrested Mr. Monserrate and took him to a Queens precinct house for questioning. The episode occurred in Mr. Monserrate’s apartment, at 37-20 83rd Street in Jackson Heights, officials said.

Officials said that when the police arrived at the hospital, Ms. Giraldo said that she did not want Mr. Monserrate to be arrested. But under New York law, such arrests are mandatory in domestic violence cases, even if the victim does not want the case to be pursued.

Michael Nieves, a spokesman for Mr. Monserrate, declined to comment on the case, saying he needed to learn more about the situation.

Another spokesman, Wayne Mahlke, said: “We’re not making any statement right now. We will be doing one shortly.”

Mr. Monserrate — a former marine and a former police officer, who served 12 years with the New York City Police Department — was less than two weeks away from resigning his seat on the City Council, where he has served since 2002, to join the State Senate.

Indeed, Thursday was a big day for the councilman. Mr. Monserrate gave a departing speech on the floor of the City Council, where his colleagues praised his service. And on Thursday evening, he attended a holiday party held by the Queens County Democrats.

The arrest startled officials on the Council. “Yesterday was a happy day for Hiram and people were happy for him, so this would be really weird,” Councilman John C. Liu, a fellow Democrat from Queens, said on Friday morning.

The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said in a news conference on Friday:

I have heard of the allegations against Councilman Monserrate. You can imagagine they are deeply, deeply troubling allegations. Of course, they’re allegations. Councilmember Monserrate, just like any individual in the city or anywhere else, is innocent until proven guilty, and I’m glad that the N.Y.P.D. is taking up these charges and is going to pursue them quickly and thoroughly.

That said, the charges which relate to domestic violence speak to the problem of domestic violence in our city. And domestic violence is really a cancer in our city and it is just outrageous and unacceptable. When that crime is perpetrated the individual who commits it needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law regardless of any position that individual might hold.

Mr. Monserrate became the first Latino to be elected from Queens when he won his Council seat in 2001. In 2003, days after a Brooklyn councilman was assassinated at City Hall, a campaign volunteer for a rival candidate running against Mr. Monserrate was charged with threatening to shoot Mr. Monserrate and two of his aides because he thought they were engaged in dirty campaign tricks. The volunteer, Julio Abreu, had accused the aides of pulling down posters for the rival candidate, Luis Jimenez, and harassing his workers.

In 2006, Mr. Monserrate unsuccessfully challenged an incumbent state senator, John D. Sabini, in a hard-fought Democratic primary. In 2007, Mr. Sabini was arrested in Albany for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and paid a $300 fine. But the arrest helped to cost him the support of party leaders in Queens, who shifted their support to Mr. Monserrate.

In May, The Times reported that the authorities were investigating whether a Queens social service agency that received city money through Mr. Monserrate’s efforts also helped politically with his campaign for the State Senate. The Queens district attorney’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation are looking into allegations that more than two dozen workers for the nonprofit agency, Libre, collected signatures to help Mr. Monserrate get on the ballot in 2006.

Mr. Monserrate has directed more than $2.7 million in Council discretionary and capital funds to the group. He said that he was unaware of any investigation and knew nothing about any efforts by Libre to collect signatures for his nominating petitions. (In October, The Times reported that Libre could not produce paperwork to show how it spent nearly $250,000 in city money that the councilman had directed to it in recent years.)

In June, Gov. David A. Paterson announced that he would nominate Mr. Sabini to be chairman of the State Racing and Wagering Board, sparing the party from another bitter primary. Mr. Monserrate won the Democratic nomination for Mr. Sabini’s Senate seat in an uncontested primary in September, and sailed to election in November.

After the election, in which Democrats won control of the chamber for the first time in decades, Mr. Monserrate was part of a so-called Gang of Four that balked at electing Malcolm A. Smith, the Senate Democratic leader, as majority leader. Mr. Monserrate eventually backed down and threw his support to Mr. Smith, who is also from Queens, but the future leadership of the Senate remains in turmoil.

Al Baker, Michael Barbaro and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.