Cops investigating attack in Jackson Heights restaurant as hate crime

Alberto Cruz says he was attacked at a Pollos Mario restaurant in Jackson Heights.  Eagle  photos by Victoria Merlino

Alberto Cruz says he was attacked at a Pollos Mario restaurant in Jackson Heights. Eagle photos by Victoria Merlino

By Victoria Merlino and Angel Torres

Cops are investigating an assault on a two LGBTQI people at a Jackson Heights restaurant that has activists and community members outraged.

The two victims, Daniel Dominguez, 39, and Alberto Cruz, 36, were having dinner at the Pollos Mario restaurant, located at 81-01 Roosevelt Ave., on Sept. 12, when a group of drunk men walked in. The men began to shout homophobic slurs and then beat them, leaving Dominguez unconscious, the men say. 

The NYPD is investigating the assault as a hate crime. 

Advocacy group Make the Road New York, along with the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the recently opened Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, among others, rallied outside of the Pollos Mario restaurant on Tuesday. 

Activists waved signs in the window of the restaurant where the incident allegedly occurred.

Activists waved signs in the window of the restaurant where the incident allegedly occurred.

The men claim they tried to solicit help from the restaurant's security, who told them that they should eat their food and leave. Make the Road alleges that No Pollos Mario employees intervened in the attack. 

The NYPD told the Eagle that an attack occurred at the restaurant on Sept. 12 around 4:30 a.m., where four to six men approached two victims and kicked and beat them before fleeing. The victims were transported to the hospital in stable condition. 

“I’m still very concerned about what happened. I’m still really afraid and really nervous,” Cruz said during a press conference in front of Pollos Mario. 

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz expressed her disappointment about the attack, and her support for the LGBTQI+ community in the neighborhood.

“I am distraught that I have to be here. Protecting the LGBTQI community means to me an everyday job for all of us. Not just for our neighbors, but for our business neighbors,” she said. “This isn’t just about being a part of the amazing parade we do here every year. It isn’t just about waving the flag. The real work is when an incident like this happens.”  

When the Eagle called Pollos Mario, the woman who answered the phone said that she and her manager were busy and not accepting interviews, and had been instructed not to talk to reporters. 

Both the New York Post and Patch reported that Jacqueline Franco, an employee of the restaurant, claimed that a manager tried to intervene, and it was actually Dominguez and Cruz who instigated the fight. 

“All I am saying is that the manager tried to stop the fight multiple times,” Franco told the Post. “They did not want to leave. They did not want to make it easier to avoid something like this. They put everyone in here at risk. We also have workers here that were trying to get it in the middle of the situation, trying to stop it."

Deborah Lauter, the executive director of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, told the press that this was the first community event she has attended as the office’s director. 

A total of 290 hate crimes were reported across the city as of Sept. 1, 2019, up from 205 reported hate crimes as of the same time last year, which is over a 41 percent increase from last year.

Queens has seen several high-profile hate crimes in the last year, including a man breaking a 20-year-old woman’s spine on the E train last December after he saw her woman kiss a woman, and a Queens man allegedly attacking and yelling a slur at two gay men leaving a bar, leaving them with broken bones.