A jury trial for two Jewish citizen patrolmen accused of assaulting a Black teenager last November has been postponed for two months.

Former Shomrim patroller Eliyahu Werdesheim and his brother Avi were scheduled to stand trial May 2 in the racially charged case that led several Black leaders to accuse Baltimore State’s Attorney Greg Bernstein of giving preferential treatment to the Jewish defendants.

The brothers and their separate attorneys were granted a continuance by Circuit Court Judge Charles Peters April 21.

“All I can say is that we asked for a postponement for further preparation,” said Andrew I. Alperstein, attorney for Eliyahu.

A spokeswoman for Bernstein said their office had opposed the delay.
The new trial is set for July 12.

According to court records, while a 15-year-old Northwestern High School student—who has not been identified because he is a juvenile—walked through predominately-Jewish Upper Park Heights Nov. 19, Eliyahu, 23, Avi, 20, and at least one other man allegedly forced him to the ground and struck him with a radio. The teen sustained lacerations, bruises and a broken wrist. During the assault, Eliyahu reportedly told the teen he “didn’t belong here.”

But the Werdesheims contend they were acting in self-defense after the boy grabbed a nail-embedded plank of wood.

Several Blacks in the community decried Bernstein’s decision to drop a felony first-degree assault charge against Eliyahu in January.

The teen’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, told the AFRO in a previous interview that Bernstein was “being soft” on Werdesheim because he is Jewish.?“There is no other reason why the charges would be dropped,” he said. “This young child was assaulted because he was African American in a Jewish community.”

Several community leaders say they have filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department and are urging the federal agency review the case as a hate crime.

“This juvenile was waiting to be picked up by his mother and he was attacked by four adult men and he was bashed in the back of his head,” recounted community activist the Rev. CD Witherspoon. He was one of several local leaders who had planned a mass demonstration for the day of the trial. He believes attorneys requested a postponement in part to prolong the case and tire out the Werdesheims’ critics.

“I think they want people to get impatient, and they are counting on us to be forgetful,” he said. “But that is not the case at all. We are going to continue to be committed to this issue.”

Although many reports reference three men, the juvenile reported that four had assaulted him, Witherspoon said, which means two alleged perpetrators have yet to be charged.

For Witherspoon, this case is just as much about classism and government accountability as it is about race.

Yet, the Werdesheims have the support of many in their neighborhood and the Orthodox community. Supporters came out in droves wielding large placards that read “Safety Is Our Right” and “We Love U Eli & Avi” at the brothers’ arraignment last February.

Barbershop owner Jacob Lurman closed his Pikesville store that day to protest in support of the brothers. He called their encounter with the teen “unfortunate” but said he didn’t think it was a hate crime.

In a January statement, the State’s Attorney’s Office said Eli’s charges were dropped “based on a careful and thorough investigation of the facts and analysis of the applicable law.”

Both brothers face three misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment, second-degree assault and possession of a deadly weapon and could receive up to 10 years in prison if convicted. They have pled not guilty.


Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO