A Baltimore judge rejected efforts Monday to halt an overseas trip by the Jewish patrol group member who is charged with assaulting a teen in Northwest Baltimore.
Prosecutors were worried Eliyahu Eliezer Werdesheim might be trying to escape the charges by going to Israel. Werdesheim is accused of assaulting the teen while patrolling the Cross Country neighborhood Nov. 19 as a volunteer with Shomrim, a Jewish group that cooperates with police on neighborhood safety issues.
Police learned Saturday that Werdesheim was set to leave on a Monday evening flight for Israel. Police initially believed that the 23-year-old student at the Community College of Baltimore County and former Israeli soldier had a one-way ticket to the country, where he also holds citizenship.
Fearing an extradition battle with Israel, state's attorney Kevin Wiggins asked the court on Monday to order Werdesheim to surrender his passport and not leave state borders without court permission.
Defense attorney Andrew I. Alperstein, who questioned the seriousness of the teen's injuries, provided documentation showing that Werdesheim bought a round-trip ticket to Israel before the alleged assault took place, and is traveling with his fiancee, whom he plans to marry in June in Maryland. Werdesheim's relatives pledged to pay $50,000 if he does not show up for his next hearing, scheduled for Jan. 20.
"They are that sure he's coming back," Alperstein said at the hearing.
Judge H. Gary Bass allowed Werdesheim to travel to Israel this time, but said he must give his passport to his attorney when he returns and receive court permission before traveling beyond Maryland, Washington and Virginia until the case is resolved.
The November incident sparked fears of racial unrest between the area's sizable Jewish and black communities. The teen is black, and in the days after the alleged assault came to light, some black leaders called for Shomrim, Hebrew for "watchers," to be disbanded.
The victim told police that Werdesheim and another man approached him in a vehicle and got out. After the other man grabbed the boy and threw him on the ground, the victim told police, Werdesheim hit him in the head with his radio and yelled, "You wanna [expletive] with us, you don't belong around here, get outta here!"
Charging documents state that the boy suffered a broken wrist as a result of the incident. But in court on Monday, Alperstein said that the victim's medical records indicate the boy has a "boxer's fracture," a knuckle injury often associated with punching an object with a closed fist.
"The initial information that this was a fractured wrist turned out to not be true," Alperstein said after the hearing. "The broken bone wasn't caused by my client's actual conduct … that seems to mean to me that the case appears less serious."
Alperstein said he did not see the boy's medical records himself, but that the nature of the injury was disclosed to him by state's attorney Wiggins. During the hearing, Wiggins did not dispute Alperstein's argument, and Wiggins declined to comment on the case after the hearing.
J. Wyndal Gordon, a Baltimore attorney who is representing the victim's family, said the alleged assault caused "an exacerbation of a pre-existing condition."
"His wrist was stepped on," Gordon said. "He also got smacked in the back of the head, which required stitches."
Gordon said he had not seen the victim's medical records, and no civil lawsuit against Werdesheim has been filed. Alperstein said he would represent Werdesheim in any civil suit, adding that his client "is a man of very limited means."
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, called for police to investigate the role of the other man who the victim said assaulted him. The victim's knuckle injury, she said, indicates the boy could have been trying to defend himself against others during the incident.
"There's somebody else involved that's not been arrested," said Hill-Aston, who attended Monday's hearing. Werdesheim, she said, "is not the only person that should be charged."
Police have said previously that no one else is under investigation in connection with the incident.
Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Police Department, did not respond to requests for comment on Monday as to why the charging documents would differ from the boy's medical records.
As for the trip to Israel, Hill-Aston said she thought the judge's ruling was appropriate after hearing that the plane ticket was a round trip and that Werdesheim planned to return.
In 1997, a Maryland man, Samuel Sheinbein, fled to Israel to avoid trial on charges of murdering 19-year-old Alfredo E. Tello Jr.
Sheinbein successfully argued that under Israeli law, he could not legally be returned to Maryland. He was sentenced to a 24-year prison term in Israel, a lighter sentence than he would have faced in Maryland.