By Bill Miller
FLUSHING — A 37-year-old man was charged on Wednesday with multiple hate crimes after his arrest Monday at a Catholic church where the pastor videotaped him smashing the statue of Mary with a car jack.
The suspect, Jia Wang, is allegedly shown on video driving over the sign at Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann Parish in Flushing.
The incident began at about 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the church, which is located at 46-02 Parsons Blvd. in Flushing. Father Jose Diaz, the pastor, said Wednesday that he heard a loud noise and ran outside to investigate.
At first, he thought it was an accident, but a man in a white SUV drove over the church sign, backed up, and did it again. Seeing the priest, he pointed the vehicle at him and accelerated.
Father Diaz said he escaped injury by charging up the church’s front steps. He videotaped the incident with his phone until police arrived 20 minutes later.
The pastor’s video shows a man — who had exited the SUV — dropping his pants and squatting over the demolished church sign.
“Another time, he tried to throw a water bottle at me, but I closed the door in his face,” Father Diaz said. “He’s screaming and throwing middle fingers at me — yelling, ‘F-you! F-you!’
“And then he empties his car. Everything — he just threw it all over the lawn and onto the street.”
The video also shows the man urinating on the lawn and performing a lewd act on the statue.
Next, Father Diaz said, the man took a heavy car tire jack and used it to smash the statue of Mary. According to the pastor, the damage appears to be “irreparable.”
“Then he walked around a bit, then sat down on the front steps and waited for the cops to come,” Father Diaz said. “So, yeah, that was Monday.”
Father Diaz told The Tablet his “nerves were shot” the day after the incident.
“I was exhausted,” he said. “I barely slept Monday night. I didn’t fall asleep until 2 o’clock in the morning. I had so much adrenaline running through me.”
According to police records, Wang is from Corpus Christi, Texas.
A police report stated that officers arrested Wang and took him to Queens General Hospital.
Wang’s arraignment was Wednesday. He was released from custody, without needing to post bail, on “non-monetary release condition,” according to records kept by the District Attorney’s Office for Queens County.
The records also show he was charged with 2nd-degree criminal mischief (hate crime), 2nd-degree criminal mischief, and 4th-degree criminal mischief. Other charges include 1st-degree aggravated harassment, and public lewdness.
His next court date is Dec. 5, the records show.
Wang was expected to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon. The potential charges he faces include: hate crime-criminal mischief, attempted hate crime-criminal mischief, attempted criminal interference with religious worship, reckless endangerment (property), and attempted reckless endangerment (property).
Father Diaz recounted the vandalism of his church on the same day as the funeral of EMS Capt. Alison Russo-Elling, who was slain in a random knife attack on Sept. 29 in Astoria. Her attacker also appeared to be mentally disturbed, investigators said.
“This is a symptom,” the priest said. “What is the root cause? Is the man suffering from mental illness? I don’t know.”
Father Diaz said that while Wang appeared to be unstable, he still must be held accountable for the damage he created.
“I don’t think he was all there, obviously,” the pastor said. “But regardless of that, even if you had some type of psychotic break, you still came to the church. You destroyed the statue.”
“He knew what he was doing,” Father Diaz added.
Father Diaz urged everyone to join the conversation about how to deal with mental health in society, especially while church vandalism is on the rise.
“This is not an isolated event,” he said. “This has been happening throughout the city. But there needs to be some sort of message that this is not okay.”
Still, the pastor said he forgives the suspect.
“I feel no hate towards him,” he added. “Was I angry at the moment? Absolutely. But I do forgive him. I pray for him, and I told my people to pray for him. Why allow that to take away the peace the Lord has given me?”