One of Mayor Eric Adams’ top advisors grabbed a migrant shelter guard by her neck and threw her to the ground, according to an eyewitness statement obtained by THE CITY. He also shoved another guard, the same report alleges.
Tim Pearson, a retired police inspector who Adams has identified as a point man on migrant shelters, was part of a melee at a Midtown shelter Tuesday afternoon after he attempted to barge inside. The two guards were arrested following the clash, while someone else was taken to the hospital.
An account of the incident in the New York Post, which ended with the arrest of two security workers at the site, said Pearson was “accosted’ by a security guard.” A “police source” later told the Daily News that “This is what happens when someone like this guard decides to exceed their authority and want to act like thugs instead of people who want to work for the city.”
Pearson told prosecutors he had identified himself as a government official and had his shield displayed on his belt, the criminal complaint against one of the guards alleges.
But 12 witnesseses wrote accounts that describe Pearson refusing to identify himself, even after he was asked multiple times — and emphasize that the guards were attempting to follow procedure in dealing with an intruder.
The statements, produced as part of a city Office of Emergency Management investigation of the incident, also describe the “stranger” who attempted to enter the facility without identifying himself while cursing at staff to get “the fuck out of the way,” and threatening to fire them, before shoving two guards when they tried to bar him from entering.
All the witness testimonials describe the mayor’s top aide acting angrily and laying hands on a female security guard first, which triggered a broader scuffle with other security guards on site trying to protect her.
Police arrested two guards, according to the incident reports and an NYPD spokesperson. A 29-year-old was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, while a second guard got a criminal court summons, but police didn’t say what she was charged with.
‘You Are Arresting the Wrong Person’
Charles Lutvak, a spokesperson for Adams, said city officials regularly conduct unannounced spot visits at the more than 200 emergency migrant shelters.
“As part of a standard inspection yesterday, a member of our team was denied access to a city contractor-operated site and then accosted by a contractor operating on site,” Lutvak said. “We cannot comment further as this incident is under active investigation.”
An NYPD report on the incident was less definitive. “A male was engaged in a dispute with two unknown individuals that became physical,” the report read.
The scuffle began around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon at the adult migrant shelter in an old Touro University building run by the city’s Office of Emergency Management on West 31st Street, across from Moynihan Station.
“A stranger enters the building doorway at Touro,” a handwritten account from a security guard employed by the contracted company Arrow reads. A spokesperson for the company didn’t respond to a request for comment from THE CITY. “The security guard on duty asks the stranger to identify himself and how can he assist.”
The account describes the guard asking the man three times to identify himself.
“He refused and replied that he doesn’t have to identify himself. And the guard should get the fuck out of the way.”
A second eyewitness report, filed by an operations manager at the site, described the situation similarly. The operations manager said they rushed to the shelter lobby upon hearing a commotion.
“The first thing I saw was a man in a ¾ zip windbreaker with writing on the front chest pushing forward and yelling at the Arrow Security Tour Commander. He yelled, ‘Who are you? and she replied ‘I work here.’ He said ‘Not after today you won’t.’”
The operations manager also said they did not hear the man identify himself, despite being asked multiple times.
“As it is strongly enforced policy not to let people enter the facility without NYCEM [Emergency Management] approval I knew the guards were following protocol,” the operations manager account reads.
The tense situation suddenly turned physical. Pearson then grabbed the female guard by the neck and pushed her to the floor, one witness’ statement alleges.
“As [she] cry out, ‘get your hands off of me.’ He continue to assault her. He started to push everyone standing near him,” the security guard’s account reads. In the scuffle, another security guard fell and got hurt and was taken to the hospital, the account asserts.
A spokesperson for the FDNY confirmed an ambulance took someone to the hospital after getting called to the scene.
The operations manager described the encounter slightly differently: “The man push [her] and she started to push back at him resulting in a struggle against each other.”
Another witness said Pearson pushed the guard so hard that “she stumbled into the receptionist table.”
Other witnesses described Pearson pushing, putting hands on, or punching the female security guard, leading the rest of the guards to swarm around Pearson and force him outside. All witnesses said they’d heard guards asking him to identify himself and Pearson refusing to do so. Pearson was wearing a windbreaker with a city logo and the identifier “T. Pearson, senior advisor to the mayor,” but just one of the 12 witnesses said that they’d seen that before he physically confronted them.
Once outside, Pearson became “more aggressive with the staff,” banging on the glass door of the shelter and demanding to be let in, while his partner attempted to calm him down, a security guard recalled.
“The police, someone of higher rank I think, was finally able to move him away from the front doors,” the operations manager wrote.
Once he was outside the building, the operations manager recalled getting a clearer glimpse at Pearson’s windbreaker and realizing he was a city official.
Multiple administration sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed Pearson’s involvement in the scuffle, and a reporter for THE CITY witnessed Pearson’s presence on site Tuesday afternoon.
About two dozen police officers arrived immediately after the altercation and some were moving to arrest the female security guard who had been shoved by Pearson. “You are arresting the wrong person,” staff on site shouted at police, the operations manager recalled.
Another supervisor outside described trying to calm Pearson down.
“I had a brief conversation with him to introduce myself and let him know what our policy was for visitors, even the mayor’s office if it is an unannounced visit,” the employee wrote. “The visitor from the mayor’s office was still heated and said, ‘I know you, I have dealt with you before.’ I had never met him before,” the supervisor recalled.
“He said he was coming to save this site today and that he would definitely be closing it now. I realized no productive conversion would take place so I backed off and let the police continue to manage the situation,” the supervisor wrote.
One employee described how the whole encounter left her feeling “incredibly unsafe.”
“I knew that taking this job would come with some risk but I never expected the threat to come from an employee of the city,” she wrote. “I hope the man will face appropriate consequences.”
Redmond Haskins, a spokesperson for the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the guard who was arrested in the conflict, said their client had no prior contact with the criminal justice system and was “was merely doing his job as a security officer and following protocol,” adding that “we… support the current investigation into Pearson’s action and urge District Attorney Alvin Bragg to immediately dismiss the charges pending against” the guard.
Douglas Cohen, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said the investigation is ongoing.
‘Most Powerful New Yorker’
At a press conference in August warning of ballooning costs of the migrant crisis, Adams said he’d tasked Pearson with cutting costs at migrant shelters. Earlier this month, Pearson visited Mexico, Ecuador and the Darién Gap in Colombia with the mayor.
A spokesperson for City Hall said during the mayor’s trip that though he’s technically employed by the nonprofit, city-funded Economic Development Corporation, earning a salary of $242,600 on top of his $124,000 NYPD pension, as reported by Politico, he handles security issues related to the migrant crisis. Pearson also worked for a decade as the security director at Resorts World until the casino in Queens vying to secure a new gambling license from Albany said it had “parted ways” with him last August following news reports about how he was moonlighting there while also working for Adams.
The incident at Touro occurred hours after Pearson showed up with dozens of police to Randall’s Island to crack down on migrants who’d started an informal marketplace outside a shelter there, according to a source with knowledge of the raid. Police confirmed one person was arrested for criminal possession of stolen property in the joint operation with NYPD and Parks Enforcement.
Pearson’s surprise visit to Touro later that afternoon was aimed at addressing fire code violations there, the source said. The city is expecting the FDNY to vacate the shelter, — currently home to hundreds of men — in the coming days. The FDNY has already issued vacate orders at three other shelters for fire code violations, according to three administration sources.
“He’s just freelance, ignoring rules staff are responsible to enforce and then threatening and punishing them when they try to do their jobs,” an administration source briefed on the incident, said of Pearson. “He’s working to remake the shelters into his own mini police states.”
Additional reporting by Katie Honan.