NEW YORK — Police were accused Tuesday of being slow to respond when at least 16 women were attacked in Central Park over the weekend by gangs of young men who pulled their clothes off and groped them.
Anne Peyton Bryant, a 29-year-old kick-boxing teacher in New York, was in-line skating when a group set upon her Sunday, trying to pull down her pants. Bryant struggled and the men ran off.
"I skated over to an officer and told him I was attacked and that the crowd was out of control," Bryant said. "I told him I was assaulted, but he acted like it was nothing."
Bryant said she approached two other officers who told her to file a report. She did, but no one offered to help her look for her attackers, she said.
Police are investigating the complaints from 16 women. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said if the allegations are true, the officers will be "severely disciplined." The mayor offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any of the attackers.
More than 900 officers were assigned to patrol the park Sunday because of a Puerto Rican Day parade on adjacent Fifth Avenue. On a normal Sunday, 36 officers patrol the 840-acre park.
Men sprayed water on women, tore at their clothes, fondled them and, in some cases, robbed them. Perhaps as many as 20 to 40 men took part; two men have been arrested.
On Tuesday, police were working with several TV stations to obtain amateur videotape of the attacks that was aired during Monday's and Tuesday's newscasts. Police hope to identify some of the suspects.
At a bail hearing Tuesday for the two men under arrest, prosecutors related the ordeal of an 18-year-old British tourist. She and her friends were surrounded and soaked with water, and men tore at her shirt, ripped off her shorts and groped her. Then the men were gone, fleeing into crowds of people in the park.
The woman quickly found two officers who helped her search for her attackers. Minutes later, two men--David Rowe, 24, and Tremayne Bain, 23--were arrested.
Their lawyers said police got the wrong men.
"I felt that they were under a lot of pressure to arrest somebody," defense attorney David Kapner said.
Gordon Ludwig, Bain's lawyer, said the group the two men were with have given a videotape to police that shows the defendants were not involved. Police did not immediately comment on Ludwig's assertions.
Rowe and Bain were charged with sexual abuse and robbery. Bail was set at $10,000 for each man.