By ALEXANDRA STEVENS
Bail was set at $1 million Tuesday for a Brooklyn man accused of committing an anti-LGBT hate crime shooting last year, one of the first major cases for the Brooklyn DA’s recent offensive against the borough’s rising reports of hate crime.
A Hate Crimes Unit was unveiled last fall by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, designed to give prosecutors advanced tools to help establish the state of mind and motivation behind these difficult-to-prosecute attacks. According to the New York Police Department, Brooklyn has experienced the highest number of reported hate crimes of any borough since 2008, with a 30 percent increase in such crimes from 2012 to 2013. The Hate Crimes Unit hopes to curb reports of racially, religiously, and sexual orientation motivated attacks in the borough.
The victims of the September 2014 incident, identified in media outlets as gay men dressed as women or transgender women, were walking on Broadway near Putnam Avenue in Bushwick when they were attacked. According to police, the group was approached by Matthew Smith, 21, Cody Sigue, 22, and Tavon Johnson, 17, who began shouting out profanities and anti-LGBT slurs. The victims tried to run away when the assailants gave chase and opened fire, hitting one target in the buttocks, said cops.
Marc Fliedner, the Civil Rights Bureau Chief and lead of the Hate Crimes Unit, appeared at Kings County Supreme Court for Matthew Smith’s prosecution. Smith, who was identified in a line-up as the shooter, has an extensive criminal record.
“[Smith] intended to kill all of them,” Fliedner told the judge, citing the close range, high number of shots fired, and the hate speech. Fliedner told the judge that outstanding video footage, 911 calls, and line up photos would be submitted as evidence.
According to police, Smith was released from jail less than a month before the shooting for a domestic violence incident, in which he pleaded guilty to strangling a woman. He was also charged with firing a gun the night before the hate crime shooting.
Smith, who wore a black rosary necklace and wrung his handcuffed hands, remained silent throughout the proceedings. He is charged with assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and attempted murder in the second degree, with a control date set for April 29. Sigue and Johnson are accused of menacing and aggravated harassment as a hate crime.