The Baltimore Sun reports: Members of Shomrim, an Orthodox Jewish citizen patrol group, take their volunteer job seriously: with matching jackets and radios, they have a phone hotline that is staffed round-the-clock so they can respond to emergencies in their Northwest Baltimore community.But one member may have recently gone too far. On Tuesday, he was arrested by city police after allegedly striking a black teenager and telling him, “You don’t belong around here.”
Police arrested 23-year-old Eliyahu Eliezer Werdesheim, a former Israeli Special Forces soldier, and charged him with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and false imprisonment in a Nov. 19 incident in the 3300 block of Fallstaff Road. According to court records, the teen’s wrist was broken in the scuffle and he suffered cuts to the back of his head.
“Shomrim has and continues to be a good partner in making the northwest community safer,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “However, this individual took the law into his own hands, and the Baltimore Police Department will not tolerate acts of vigilantism from any organization.”
Andrew Alperstein, Werdesheim’s attorney, said his client was observing who he believed to be a criminal suspect, when he was confronted by the boy, who Alperstein said picked up a stick and attacked him.
“Mr. Werdesheim defended himself, and won that fight,” Alperstein said, calling it “nothing more than self-defense situation.”
Nathan Willner, an attorney and Shomrim member, said the organization had suspended Werdesheim pending an internal investigation. While he said the group did not condone inappropriate behavior, he was confident that Werdesheim would be vindicated in the court system.
Court records show that a 15-year-old was walking at 12:45 p.m. when a vehicle with two males inside approached and began driving next to him. The victim told police that they followed him for a short distance before jumping out of the vehicle and surrounding him.
He said the passenger of the vehicle grabbed him and threw him to the ground, then the driver – who police believe was Werdesheim – struck the teen in the head with his radio and asked if he “had anything on him.”
According to the victim, Werdesheim yelled, “You wanna [expletive] with us, you don’t belong here, get outta here!”
A third man exited a white van and struck the victim in the back with his knee, then held him to the ground as the other men patted him down, he told police. He said the men fled the area, and he called police.
The teen could not be reached for comment. Police said the teen was not under investigation in this incident, though a source said he has a juvenile arrest record that includes theft charges. Juvenile criminal records are not publicly available.
Guglielmi said the other two men were not under investigation, saying Werdesheim was the suspect who struck the boy in the head. Willner said he was not aware of whether other Shomrim members were involved and said no other members were suspended.
Shomrim, which is Hebrew for “watchers,” was started in late 2005 after a rash of burglaries in the city’s Orthodox community around Upper Park Heights and Greenspring. Several men decided to start patrolling the streets in the early morning hours.
Those efforts would morph into a tightly coordinated operation that screens and trains new members and is often on the scene before police. Splitting the area up into quadrants, they have led search efforts for missing people, thwarted bicycle thefts and intervened in suicide attempts.
While most of Shomrim’s members are local shopkeepers and businessmen, Werdesheim came with a security background: in addition to his Israeli military background, he is CEO of a security company that serves diplomats and executives when they travel abroad, according to his website and an August profile in the Washington Post. He worked for an elite unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, where he specialized in urban counterterrorism, hostage rescue and high-profile apprehensions.
“This young man has no [criminal] record, and is well thought of in the community,” said Alperstein, his attorney. “His role in doing this was really of giving back and community service … Hopefully the community will stand behind him as he continues to preserve his good name.”
Police have worked closely with the group, using them as a resource but also advising them on how to keep themselves safe and not to engage suspects in potentially dangerous situations.
It is just one of the many Northwest Baltimore volunteer groups trying to pitch in. The Northwest Citizens Patrol counts hundreds of members and organizes patrols each night, and there is also an all-volunteer ambulance service and a roadside assistance service that changes flat tires, provides jump-starts and responds when community members lock their keys in a car.
“The Jewish community relies on Shomrim, and they’re a bridge between the police and the community,” said Guglielmi, the police spokesman. “Whatever we’ve needed from them, they’ve been helpful. This is more between the individual and the Police Department, than Shomrim.”
Willner said the assault allegations were an aberration.
“We’ve had over 4,600 calls for service the past five years, and this is the only incident we’ve had of this kind,” Willner said. “We’re going to continue to serve our community.”