NEW YORK (AP) – The death of transgender woman assaulted on a New York City street last week was ruled a homicide Friday as hate crimes task force detectives try to determine if it’s the latest in a spate of bias attacks to hit the city this year.
The victim, 21-year-old Islan Nettles, died Thursday, five days after she was attacked. The medical examiner’s office on Friday determined she died from blunt impact injuries to the head.
Police are investigating Nettles’ death as possibly the latest bias attack this year in New York. Sixty-eight have been reported, from yelled slurs to the May killing of a gay man in Greenwich Village, prompting police to step up patrols this summer.
Last year, 54 attacks total were reported.
Nettles and a friend, another transgender woman, were out Saturday evening in Harlem when they ran into a group of men, and one pounced, punching Nettles in the face, police said. But a witness who spoke to authorities initially did not mention any anti-gay remarks, and the suspect, 20-year-old Paris Wilson, was arrested on an assault charge.
After the attack, Nettles was hospitalized, slipped into a coma and later died.
The witness eventually told detectives about the anti-gay remarks, and the hate crimes task force took over the investigation. Detectives are looking into whether the suspect had propositioned Nettles.
Upgraded charges are possible following the medical examiner’s ruling, police said. It wasn’t clear whether Wilson had an attorney and his number was not listed.
Nettle’s sister, Elana, said in an interview Friday that she and her mother were coping well so far but did not comment further.
In May, police said Mark Carson, 32, was first taunted with homophobic slurs, then shot in the head in Greenwich Village, not far from the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the gay rights movement.
A suspect was arrested on a charge of murder as a hate crime. The killing, and other bias attacks, sparked a summer protest attended by thousands.
Some of the other bias incidents this summer included an assault last week where two men were attacked in Chelsea.
Christine Quinn, the city’s first openly gay City Council speaker and a mayoral candidate, denounced the most recent attack.
“An attack against one person, or one community, is an assault against all New Yorkers,” she said in a joint statement with other council members. “We ask all New Yorkers to come together, to embrace our differences and to denounce hate violence.”
Associated Press writer Bethan McKernan contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)