News of an attack on a 49-year-old man and his teenage daughter at Bow Tie Cinemas left business owners and customers stunned Monday.
The assault happened three months ago, but no one knew the disturbing details until Friday, after three teenagers were indicted on felony assault charges and others were charged as juveniles. As many as 15 people were involved in the attack, police said.
Some business owners said they first heard the news when customers came in asking about safety downtown.
Caught by surprise, they did not have at hand the area’s crime statistics — showing downtown is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city — to reassure people.
They also didn’t have any details on safety at the cinema, and they strongly wished they did. They questioned why none of the economic development agencies had informed them.
But some of those agencies were taken by surprise, too.
“To be honest, up until it hit the paper, we weren’t even aware of it,” said Colleen Merays, assistant director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. “I certainly wish I did know about it in advance of this.”
If they had known, they could have offered a reassuring statistic: this has never happened before at the cinema.
The movie theater’s security company provided Metroplex Development Authority with a log of every incident in the past two years. Items ranged from janitorial calls to the rescue of a girl who couldn’t open the door of a bathroom stall.
There was only one violent incident — the one on June 29.
In that case, a Niskayuna father hushed teenagers who were running up the aisles and banging on garbage cans during a late-night movie.
When he, his two daughters and a friend of the girls left at the end of the film, the group of teenagers ambushed them, according to the detailed indictment.
They beat the father until he fell down, and then kicked him repeatedly. He suffered a severe concussion and a broken hand.
His 15-year-old daughter tried to come to his rescue. They punched her in the face and snatched away her cellphone.
A cinema employee called police, and they arrived before she even finished giving her information to a dispatcher. They arrived so quickly that they were able to grab one suspect running from the cinema, and later arrested others based on security camera footage.
At first, the extent of the man’s injuries wasn’t clear, and police lodged misdemeanor assault charges and a felony robbery charge. A county grand jury upgraded the assault charges to felonies because of the severity of the injuries.
But someone from Bow Tie knew right away that the incident was serious. That person called Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen just after the incident. And he took it seriously, too: at 6 a.m. that morning he was speaking with top management at Bowtie headquarters.
And then no one said anything publicly. Not to the media, not to the business owners, not to DSIC.
Gillen said he wasn’t told that a father had been attacked in front of his daughters, or that he was taken away by ambulance. He thought teens had gotten into a fight with each other.
“I had a completely different impression of it,” he said.
He added that it was clearly an isolated incident.
“This is the only time there was any kind of incident” at the cinema, he said.
“The police arrived almost instantly,” he said. “They made arrests. The system worked.”
But no one worked to manage the public relations fallout.
Merays said DSIC could have used its email list of every business owner to tell people about it — and offer the relevant safety statistics.
“An innocent bystander. You really can’t downplay it,” she said. “I’m sure we would have let people know. You definitely, when it’s a potential customer or safety question, you want to be able to respond.”
But not every business owner objected to the lack of notice.
“Keep it quiet. They did the right thing,” said Pizza King employee Sean Richards. His fellow employees were surprised at this, one of them saying, “Really?”
But he argued that Metroplex must have tried to keep it a secret — and for good reason.
“If they find out, you’re going to lose customers,” he said. “From a business standpoint, it was smart to keep it quiet.”