All he wanted was a slice of pizza and a bottle of NyQuil, but what 58-year-old Thomas Battreall got was a savage beating when he tried to walk home from a corner store last Monday night.
What shocked him most was that his attackers appeared to be about 14 years old — and the leader was a girl.
It started when Battreall walked out of a Hamilton Hill deli shortly after 8 p.m. — he lives just across the street. A group of young teenagers surrounded him. One asked for a dollar. He demurred, explaining that he was on unemployment. He’s a construction worker, laid off for the winter.
He walked to the store because he had a cold and felt too miserable to cook. But a cold didn’t stop him from fighting back when two of the teens punched him, he said.
The first blow missed, but the second knocked him to the ground.
“I went down, but I’m from Manhattan, OK? We don’t give up. They got my cellphone. They wanted my wallet,” he said.
He fought wildly in a brawl that went on for several minutes, he said. Finally, someone came out of a nearby building and shouted, “Break it up!”
The teens ran. One of them took off with his wallet, but Battreall didn’t have the strength to follow — his shoulder was dislocated and one of his fingers broken. He lay there, in the street, as police arrived.
As he lay there, he made a decision: He wasn’t going to keep quiet about this.
“I think a lot of this is not reported because of the gangs. People are scared,” he said. “This is a neighborhood where people don’t snitch. To hell with that [expletive].”
He gave the police full identifications of each attacker — their clothes, their sizes, anything that could distinguish them. Then he went to his neighbors and asked them to help identify the teens. When a neighbor recognized one, he called police to give them the name.
“I’m not scared,” he said. “You can’t be scared of little kids. Someone has to stand up and say, ‘Enough!’ ”
His neighbors told him they had seen frightening muggings recently in which older men were beaten badly by teens.
Police couldn’t confirm those claims, saying they’ve had just one other reported mugging on Hamilton Hill in the past two weeks and the victim was a juvenile. Neighbors interviewed would not give their names, but said they had not heard of or seen any muggings in the area recently.
Battreall is worried about the next victim.
“I’ve been in construction all my life. I’m in pretty good shape. They beat the [expletive] out of me,” he said. “What if it was an older gentleman? They’d kill him!”
He wants the teens gone.
“This is becoming a menace,” he said.
Police department spokesman Sgt. Mark McCracken said investigators are working on the case in hopes of making arrests.
Overall, he said, muggings are down 9 percent this year, compared with the first 10 months of last year.
He acknowledged he has no way to track unreported incidents, but said police do not believe there is a growing problem there.