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Unanswered questions in arrest

October 1, 2004

Here's a case with racial overtones that raises questions the Police Department is not prepared to answer.

About 4:30 p.m. on May 16, 2003, the day after his 21st birthday, Aaron Wong and his girlfriend, Brooke Lopez, 19, happened to park their car in a cul-de-sac outside a small apartment complex off Jewett and Burnside avenues in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island.

They were immediately confronted by the complex's owner, a white man named James Mangone.

Wong, who is black, and Lopez, who is Hispanic, say Mangone cursed at Wong, used racial epithets, then ordered them to leave but blocked their car with his truck.

When Wong got out of the car, Lopez said, Mangone - who she described as 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds - pushed Wong into the driver's side mirror, breaking it. Wong - who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 140 pounds - hit Mangone with it, cutting him above his eye.

Mangone summoned two friends, who arrived a few minutes later. One, Lopez said, grabbed a level from Mangone's truck and chased Wong. The second man, Wong said, drew a gun and stopped him.

Lopez said Mangone returned to his truck, grabbed an electric circular saw and threw it through her windshield, slightly injuring her with flying glass as she sat inside, dialing 911 on her cell phone, screaming, "My boyfriend, who is black, is being attacked by a white man!"

Minutes later, Emergency Medical Services technicians and police from the 120th Precinct appeared as the man with the gun drove away, Lopez said.

One of the officers who responded was three-year veteran Young Yoo, described by his Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate Albert Acierno as "the nicest kid in the world."

Lopez said Yoo, who is Asian, allowed Mangone's friend to handcuff Wong, who was lying on the ground, while Mangone stepped on Wong's neck.

"That is a memory I will never forget," Lopez said.

Wong was arrested by Yoo and charged with assault, criminal possession of a weapon and harassment. Mangone, treated at the scene for the cut above his eye, was not charged.

In his arrest report, Yoo wrote that Wong caused "physical injury to another person ... by means of a dangerous instrument."

He added that Wong possessed "a dangerous or deadly instrument with intent to use it unlawfully against another." This apparently referred to a closed knife that Wong and Lopez said Wong carried for his work as a veterinary technician. The knife, they said, fell out of his pocket with his wallet during the struggle.

No mention was made in Yoo's report of his allegedly allowing a civilian to handcuff Wong. No mention was made of Lopez, who said she was never questioned.

Instead of being taken to the hospital, as the Patrol Guide states is appropriate procedure for a serious injury, Wong was taken to the station house.

Only after he complained of pain was he taken some hours later to St. Vincent's Hospital Staten Island, where he was diagnosed with a "linear fracture in the body of the right mandible" - a broken jaw.

But instead of admitting Wong, as is customary police procedure, police returned him to the station house, where he remained until the next day, when he was arraigned. After a judge released him, his mother, Desiree, took him back to the hospital, where he was operated on by Dr. George Smith on May 22.

The charges against Wong were dismissed June 28, 2004, after Mangone repeatedly did not appear in court.

Reached at the Department of Personnel, where he was recently reassigned, Yoo declined to comment.

Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne did not return a call from Newsday.

Mangone did not respond to numerous calls from Newsday, but his wife, Susan, who runs their real estate and construction business, said, "Private Property and No Trespassing signs were posted throughout the property. My husband said he [Wong] said foul things to him and pulled out a knife." Wong and Lopez both deny that allegation.

Here now are the unanswered questions for Browne and the department:

Why wasn't Mangone arrested for allegedly smashing Wong's windshield and injuring Lopez?

Who were Mangone's two mysterious friends? Why did Yoo allegedly allow Mangone to step on Wong's neck?

Why was a man with broken jaw taken to a jail cell and not to the hospital?

Things only grew worse for the Wongs.

Desiree Wong said she tried to file a civilian complaint at the 120th Precinct only to be told she was not permitted to do so.

A lawyer she hired to file a notice of claim against the city failed to file the notice on time.

One last fact, which may explain a few things: Mangone, Newsday learned recently, is an ex-cop, having retired in 2000 after 16 years on the job.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.