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Man Pleads Guilty in '91 Brooklyn Riots

April 13, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Declaring he has never been a racist, one of two black men charged in the 1991 Crown Heights riots pleaded guilty Friday for his role in the violence that swept through the Brooklyn neighborhood and lead to the death of a Jewish scholar.

Charles Price, 48, who appeared in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, admitted he violated the civil rights of Yankel Rosenbaum, 29, who died in a nearby hospital after being stabbed on the street.

Price told the court he urged members of a crowd, which had gathered after a black child was killed in an auto accident, to follow him. "I told them it was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," he said.

"In my heart, I have never been a racist," Price added. "I feel very sorry for all the people who were hurt or died that night."

Over four days, 188 people were injured as crowds threw bottles, looted and smashed cars, including police vehicles. A state investigative group later labeled the violent clashes between Hasidic Jews and blacks as "the worst outbreak of racial violence in more than 20 years."

Price's appearance Friday before Judge David Trager was a somewhat bitter aftermath to the violence.

In January, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Price and Lemrick Nelson Jr., 27. It said Trager manipulated the jury makeup in their trial in an effort to achieve a racial and religious balance.

Price originally received a sentence of 21 years and 10 months in prison. On Friday, Trager sentenced him to 11 years and eight months. He already has served almost half of that time.

Norman Rosenbaum, whose brother was killed in the rioting, sat in the courtroom while Price read his prepared statement. He said he didn't believe that Price spoke with sincerity.

"I didn't hear the words, 'I'm sorry.' I didn't hear one iota of remorse," Rosenbaum said after the proceeding. "It's not good enough."

Price's lawyer, Darrell Paster, said his client decided Thursday night to plead guilty. "He just wanted closure. He just wanted certainty," Paster said.

U.S. Atty. Alan Vinegrad said he believed the government had achieved a fair result in the case. "After years of denials, this defendant has at long last admitted that he was responsible for precipitating the attack on Yankel Rosenbaum," he said.

Nelson, who was 16 when the violence flared, was originally acquitted of killing Rosenbaum. He was later found guilty of violating the victim's civil rights and sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison.

Vinegrad pledged to press the case against Nelson too.

"The Department of Justice will continue to pursue our civil rights prosecution . . . until he too is brought to justice," he said.

The rioting erupted Aug. 19, 1991, when a station wagon in a procession escorting Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the world leader of Lubavitch Judaism, struck and killed 7-year-old Gavin Cato. As word of Cato's death spread through the neighborhood, black youths stoned homes and attacked residents.

A grand jury declined to indict Yosef Lifsh, the driver of the vehicle.

In 2001, on the 10th anniversary of the violence, Rosenbaum's brother and Cato's father shook hands in a gesture of reconciliation at City Hall. The meeting was arranged by then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

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