Police are out in force in this neighborhood and on the Upper East Side as they search for a man who they say targets Asians, violently robs them and then flees. The NYPD’s show of force is not only a muscular attempt to catch the suspect now identified as Jason Commisso, 34, but also to prevent him from striking again.
He’s one of the most widely photographed fugitives in memory. Last week, the NYPD released two surveillance images of Commisso, taken from cameras in East Harlem housing projects where he attacked victims. They also released surveillance videos of a man who resembled Commisso, but all of the images were grainy and unclear.
Monday, however, investigators released his mug shot, his name and new surveilance video. That video, according to the NYPD, was recorded in a McDonald’s on Third Avenue near 103rd Street.
It shows a man who strongly matches Commisso’s mug shot using a credit card to buy fast food. Detectives say that the credit card he used belonged to one of his eight different victims. Not only that, he used it just 40 minutes after he had brutally beaten up his victim in an elevator and had stolen her purse.
That sort of violence has police in pursuit of Commisso, but also yields a warning. “Number one, call 911, don’t be a hero,” said Wally Zeins, a retired NYPD detective supervisor who is a law enforcement consultant for PIX11 News.
Zeins points out that Commisso is no stranger to law enforcement. His rap sheet has more than 30 past charges on it, for a variety of crimes consistent with the recent crimes of which he’s suspected.
“He’s had burglary, assault, criminal possession… [and] he’s had one drug arrest,” Zeins told PIX11 News.
The person behind the eight attacks may discriminate against Asians, but he is not prejudiced on age or gender. His victims range from 27 to 64 years old; four were female, four were male.
One of them, who PIX11 identifies only by her first name, Zoe, in order to protect her identity, is a living indicator of her attacker’s violence. Her face and upper body have black and blue bruises left from the beating she took last Thursday.
Like all of the attacks, hers took place in the elevator. Police say Commisso follows his victims there and strikes intensely. “I’m sorry,” Zoe told PIX11 News, “but I can’t remember anything.” The attack was just that swift and brutal. Its marks, however, linger on her.
As long as he’s on the loose, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has set up a task force to protect the neighborhood and to be on the lookout for Commisso. PIX11 News observed one- or two-officer patrols every two or three blocks from 96th Street to 116th Street, north to south, on every avenue east to west, from the FDR Drive to Madison Avenue.
Multiple police units were posted at subway stops in East Harlem and the Upper East Side as well. Police will not say definitively how they think Commisso, whose last known address was in Far Rockaway, Queens two years ago, has gotten to Upper Manhattan to commit the crimes they suspect him of. It is quite possible he arrived and left on the subway’s 6 train, which runs right through the neighborhood.
It is also possible, said Zeins, that Commisso walked into the neighborhood that abuts the East River.
“If you look right across the [East River pedestrian] bridge… here is Wards Island,” the former all-Manhattan detective supervisor told PIX11 News, pointing across the East River from East Harlem, “and on it is the largest homeless shelter in the city of New York.”
The NYPD is intent to solve this case not only to bring the attacks to an end, but also to help calm the restlessness of the community.
Having a violent attacker roaming free is unsettling. However, more than one resident told PIX11 News that they resent not seeing a greater police presence in their community when there isn’t a manhunt on. Others said that if the victims in the predominantly Latino and African American community were not Asian, they doubted that the NYPD would be out in such force.
Everybody, however, that PIX11 News encountered was eager to see this serial robber caught as soon as possible.