The mother of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman who was killed in Harlem last year, was told, in a recent meeting with the Manhattan district attorney's office, that law enforcement has lost track of the only man who was charged in the case.
“They don’t even have the correct address for this person, Paris Wilson,” Delores Nettles said at a January 30 protest outside police headquarters in lower Manhattan.
Nettles said she met with the assistant district attorney who is handling the case three weeks ago. The district attorney views the case as a homicide.
“The only thing they would tell me is that there is no statute of limitations on this case,” Nettles said. “It’s terrible, but I have to wait.”
Islan was attacked in the early morning hours on August 17 at Eighth Avenue and 147th Street. The criminal complaint filed by police when Wilson was arrested suggests police have at least one witness to the assault though that witness was not identified in that document.
“I am informed by ___, of an address known to the District Attorney's Office, that she observed the defendant strike ___ about the head with a closed fist, causing ___to fall to the ground,” the complaint reads. “Once on the ground, the defendant continued to strike ___ in the face. I am informed by Police Officer Joseph Carrasquillo shield #18327, of the PSA 6 Precinct that he observed ___unconscious on the ground with a swollen shut eye and blood on her face.”
Nettles remained in a coma following the assault and was taken off life support on August 22. Wilson, who was 20 at the time of the attack, was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault. The charges against him were eventually dropped after a second man confessed to the attack, allegedly at the urging of Wilson’s mother. That second man eventually recanted.
At a November 19 court appearance, Nicholas Viorst, an assistant district attorney, said that homicide charges could still be brought against “Mr. Wilson or someone else.”
The apparent bungling of the investigation fueled the anger at the January 30 demonstration. The view, which is supported by a number of cases, is that crimes against transgender people are seen as less important by police and prosecutors.
“It is important that trans women and men and their lives are taken as seriously as every other New Yorker,” said Melissa Sklarz, president of the Stonewall Democrats of New York City, an LGBT political club. “More than once, the wants and needs of transgender women and men fall between the cracks.”
Roughly 100 people spent an hour demonstrating outside police headquarters in the bitter cold. Holding signs, they chanted “Trans people matter” and “Not one more.”
Carl Siciliano, the executive director of the Ali Forney Center, a services provider for homeless queer youth, talked about the half dozen unsolved homicides of transgender women that he was aware of.
“We have to demand that transgender people be considered equal in this city,” he said.
The demonstration was organized by the Transgender/ Cisgender Coalition, ACT UP NY, Luz’s Daughter Cares, TWOCC: Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater NY, STARR: Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform, and LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent.
The Manhattan district attorney did not respond to a request for comment.