Probation Urges One Year for Basher

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | A man, now 21, who received a light sentence for participating in three 2009 assaults on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, including one originally charged as an anti-gay hate crime, could get a year in jail after he violated his probation.

Driton Nicaj was sentenced to just 45 days in jail and three years on probation after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor assault counts in May 2010.

In June of 2009, Nicaj knocked Joseph Holladay unconscious. The gay Boston resident had a wound on his head that required stitches.

Given 45 days in ‘09 assaults, at least one on gay man, new bust could mean jail for Driton Nicaj

The day after attacking Holladay, Nicaj assaulted two other men. One had a broken nose and three skull fractures requiring six hours of surgery to insert a metal plate in his head. The second man required stitches to close a wound on his lip.

Press reports at the time said the other two men were gay.

Nicaj gave three statements to police, two oral and one written. He gave a videotaped statement to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

“The defendant has made admissions to being present on the June 27, 2009 assault and committing the assaults on June 28, 2009 within approximately a half hour of each other,” an assistant district attorney wrote in a court filing.

The judge in the case, Ronald A. Zweibel, dismissed the hate crime elements in December of 2009, saying that Nicaj’s use of the word “faggot” during the Holladay assault was “just typical trash-talking.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which was then run by Robert Morgenthau, made a deal with Nicaj. With credit for time served and good behavior, Nicaj served roughly 20 to 25 days of his sentence, but on November 16 of last year, he was arrested and charged with third-degree criminal trespass and marijuana possession, which are violations of his probation.

Appearing before Zweibel on March 10, a representative from the city’s Department of Probation detailed what she said were other probation violations and told the judge that Nicaj “clearly indicated to the Department of Probation that he was not interested in probation.”

The representative recommended that Nicaj be given a year in jail, the maximum sentence he faces for the assaults. An assistant district attorney seconded that view, saying that Nicaj was “non-compliant” with probation.

Zweibel remanded Nicaj, and he will be held on Rikers Island until an April 8 hearing to determine whether he has violated his probation and what sentence, if any, Zweibel will impose.

Should he get a year, Nicaj will get credit for the time he has already served. Inmates on Rikers Island can reduce their sentences by as much as a third with good behavior.

Nicaj’s attorney declined to comment.