NEW YORK — Teen-age youths picked up in a massive sweep through Central Park following reports of attacks on male joggers were almost freed before a report surfaced that a woman had been found beaten and unconscious, a policeman testified Friday.
Police Officer Eric Reynolds also testified that on the night of their arrest, "they didn't really seem to care much about it."
The suspects were "sitting and talking" in the youth room of the Central Park precinct, awaiting the arrival of their parents or guardians, he said.
"They wanted to go home. They wanted to hang out," Reynolds testified at a pre-trial hearing in state Supreme Court.
Five youths were arrested in the hours after the attacks on April 19. Three of them were subsequently indicted, along with two other suspects, for the attacks on the woman jogger and two male joggers.
A fourth youth arrested shortly after the attacks was not indicted. The fifth youth arrested is expected to testify against the others at the trial this winter.
Police at the precinct were awaiting the arrival of the youths' relatives when they learned at 4 a.m. that a woman who had been brutally beaten had been found in a wooded section of the park, Reynolds testified.
He said a lieutenant told him "to keep the suspects there for a while so that they could be questioned."
Reynolds was among the dozens of police officers who searched Central Park as their radios crackled with reports that a band of more than 30 youths had attacked a homeless man and several male joggers.
Working undercover with his partner, Officer Robert Powell, Reynolds was cruising in a city parks department van on Central Park West near 101st Street at 10:30 p.m.
He said they spotted a group of 10 to 15 youths, who began pointing at a uniformed officer on a scooter. Anticipating that the youths would run, he pulled the van to the curb, jumped out and told them to stay still.
"At that point the group started to run, except for two," Reynolds testified.
As Reynolds searched the teens, one of them told him he had just left his girlfriend's house. Another youth said he was on his way home from the movies after seeing a horror film with his girlfriend.
The two claimed they did not know the other teens and feared they were about to be robbed by the group, Reynolds said.