Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs / Sun City Editor

Emergency personnel treat a victim's injuries and interview witnesses next to the food truck on Eddy Street early on the morning of Saturday, March 10, 2018.

April 12, 2018

Police Arrest 2 in Assault of Black Cornell Student Who Witnesses Said Was Called a Slur

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Cornell Police have arrested two men and accused them of taking part in an assault in Collegetown last month, claiming that one of the men used slurs to harass a black student and then assaulted him.

Cornell Police arrested Zachary R. Boothroyd, of Dryden, and George W. Booker Jr., of Groton, both of whom are 22 years old. Police charged Boothroyd with three counts of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, and Booker with one count of third-degree assault. Both were arraigned on Monday and released without bail.

President Martha Pollack confirmed at a Student Assembly meeting on Thursday that neither of the arrested men are Cornell students and called the assault “a very disturbing incident.”

In public documents filed by Cornell Police in Ithaca City Court, Investigator Charles Alridge said Booker punched the student in the head, causing him to fall onto the concrete sidewalk unconscious near the taco truck on Eddy Street at about 1 a.m. on March 10.

The assault occurred on the same street where a black student was assaulted in September in what prosecutors have charged as a hate crime. Tompkins County District Attorney Matthew Van Houten charged John Greenwood ’20 with hate crime attempted assault in that case, which is ongoing. Greenwood has pleaded not guilty.

The victim in the March assault, who is black, told police that he went out with friends on March 9 and later walked to the taco truck near the corner of Eddy Street and Dryden Road for food. He said he remembers a white man standing near the taco truck who matched later police descriptions of the suspect, but that his memory is “blurry” following the head injury he incurred during the assault.

In the documents, a Cornell employee who witnessed the incident, said a man who was in line at the taco truck was acting rowdy. The employee said the rowdy man and the victim “had a brief interaction” and then the man knocked the victim to the ground before pushing several other people waiting in line, including a woman who police said broke her ankle.

“After I helped [the victim] up, the man who had knocked him down became very confrontational and started shouting something along the lines of, ‘Let’s go nigger’ and ‘You got a problem nigger?’” the employee said in a statement to police.

The employee said the victim asked the man to stop using the slur, and the man again knocked the victim down.

The employee said he intervened and tried to diffuse the situation, but was also punched in the face, causing him to start bleeding from the lip. When he said he was going to call police, the man and about three friends left, heading down Eddy Street, the employee said.

Cornell Police said that the investigation, in consultation with the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office, “confirmed reports of racially charged language used by the assailants, but no evidence of a hate crime.”

The Sun is withholding the identity of the victim at whom the slurs were directed based on a request from the victim, his family and Cornell Police Deputy Chief David Honan, who cited safety in asking The Sun to withhold the name. He urged The Sun to protect all victims in this case “and their concerns regarding privacy and safety.”

Another witness, a Cornell senior, said in the public court documents that a man with blond hair rushed into the line using the slur several times. The senior said he told the man to back off, but then saw him punch the victim shortly thereafter. The man then also punched the senior twice in the back off the head, he said.

Cornell Police accused Booker of assaulting the victim at whom the slurs were directed. The police accused Boothroyd of the assaults of the employee, the male senior, and a female senior who police said Boothroyd shoved, causing her to break her ankle.

“Violent actions such as these assaults have no place on our campus or anywhere in our community,” Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner said in a statement. “The diligence of the Cornell Police investigative team, with the assistance of our regular patrol teams, was fueled by members of our community who came forward with information to assist in identifying those charged.”

“These collaborations produced big results,” Zoner said. “I have immeasurable appreciation for the collaboration and support we received from the community.”

The victim at whom the slurs were directed said he woke up in the hospital with blood on his pillow, then headed home and later spoke with police.

Van Houten, the district attorney, said that by law, there was no evidence for a hate crime.

“There was no evidence which would have supported the classification of the charged offenses as hate crimes under New York State law,” Van Houten said in a statement released by Cornell Police.

“While it is inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the evidence in an ongoing case, the investigation has revealed no proof establishing the criteria for charging the defendant with a hate crime as defined by the Penal Law,” the prosecutor said.

The relevant portion of the statute says that a person commits a hate crime when he or she “intentionally commits a crime or selects a victim in whole or in substantial part” because of a belief or perception regarding the race of the victim, whether or not that belief is correct.