Sherry Scott (L) with others who claim they were assaulted
SPRING VALLEY — A village justice wants mediation for two Orthodox Jewish men and a black family following a religious neighborhood group's response to a water balloon-throwing incident in June.
As the criminal case moves forward, Justice Alan Simon set up a three-member panel for the two sides to air their differences and make peace. Simon said he wanted to use the mediation process as a step toward trying to "establish peace in our neighborhoods."
"We have a lot of misunderstandings because they don't understand each other," Simon said. "They don't really know each other."
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said he's all for getting different ethnic and religious groups or neighbors talking, but the justice can't set up mediation without all sides involved.
"Without the victims there is no mediation," Zugibe said. "At the current time the matter will proceed in justice court."
Sherry Scott, the Spring Valley village clerk, declined to get involved in mediation Thursday in court. Prosecutor Eric Holzer told Simon he would not get involved.
Because of Scott's involvement, Simon said the prosecution would take place outside Spring Valley. He adjourned the case to Aug. 25.
Scott's daughter hit a van with a water balloon just before 11 p.m. June 15. The driver called the Chaverim, a Jewish group that responds to emergencies and helps members of the community.
Up to 50 Chaverim members descended on a Fletcher Road apartment building. Before Spring Valley police arrived, the van driver chased the 11-year-old girl, who was protected by a 17-year-old male relative, police said.
Chaverim members confronted the girl, her brother and Scott, and punches were thrown, police said.
Scott said she was bruised when one of the men knocked her against the wall. She said the men wouldn't let her child and relative into the building and pushed and hit her grandson.
Morris Jacobowitz, 32, of Spring Valley was arrested on a charge of second-degree reckless endangerment, and Solomon E. Simkowitz of Wesley Hills on charges of second-degree unlawful imprisonment and second-degree harassment.
When Chaverim members and religious leaders complained that the Scott family and others were the aggressors, police interviewed those who responded as well as the family. No one else has been charged.
Jacobowitz and Simkowitz pleaded not guilty through their lawyer, Kenneth Gribetz, who said mediation was a good idea in this case.
Issues also were raised as to whether Gribetz could represent both men at trial without a conflict of interest. The issue could arise if either man testifies, possibly against the other's interest. Gribetz said no conflict existed.
The incident highlighted growing tensions between the black and Orthodox Jewish-Hasidic communities, partly as a result of public school issues.
The Rockland Human Rights Commission is conducting separate mediation efforts with representatives of both communities. County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef said he requested the agency's intervention because of tensions in Ramapo.
Simon appointed a panel to get talks going. The panelists — a businessman, Spring Valley NAACP President Willie Trotman and a pastor — met with the two defendants and Gribetz.
Wilbur Aldridge, regional leader for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said outside the courtroom that he agreed tensions are high among diverse groups in Rockland County, including blacks and Hasidic Jews.
Aldridge said he didn't understand Simon's mediation attempt in the middle of a criminal case.