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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Everyone — from residents to merchants — has always said Richard Pearson would surely kill someone if the menacing, mentally ill man was allowed to keep roaming the streets of Soho and Nolita.
On Monday, he almost did.
According to police, at 11:10 a.m., Pearson, 49, grabbed a pair of scissors off vendor Baare Batchiri’s table on Broadway just south of Houston St., and then plunged the shears into the 60-year-old’s chest.
Pearson stands 6 feet 4 inches, weighs 250 pounds and is extremely strong. He had reportedly been arguing with a passerby, then decided to come at Batchiri, who was selling cell-phone accessories.
Batchiri, an African immigrant, was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he was recovering Tuesday, being treated for a punctured lung.
After the attack, Pearson fled into a nearby subway. But, as the New York Post reported, the wounded Batchiri followed him to make sure he wouldn’t get away, and police were able to arrest the hulking Pearson.
He was charged with attempted murder, assault and criminal weapon possession.
Pearson a.k.a. the “Soho Wild Man” has a lengthy rap sheet, with 21 arrests over more than three decades. He recently did a six-month stint in jail for cocaine possession, though prosecutors were unable to convict him on charges of allegedly attacking someone with a brick last May, which could have kept him behind bars longer.
Local residents and merchants had packed the courtroom at Pearson’s first hearing, trying to influence the judge to give him a stiffer sentence.
Bernard Thompson, 50, Batchiri’s partner, was off running an errand on Monday morning when Pearson was attacked. He arrived 20 minutes after the stabbing.
“When I reached the table, I see all this red — I thought it was paint,” Thompson said.
A detective and a lieutenant were on the scene talking to Batchiri before he was taken to the hospital, and writing down the charges.
“I seen ’em do the paperwork — ‘attempted murder,’ ” Thompson said.
He spoke to a reporter on Tuesday as he was helping a jewelry vendor at the other man’s table.
Ironically, he said, he and Batchiri would try to help Pearson when they could. If the homeless man was slumped down on the sidewalk outside the Ricky’s store, they’d buy him a coffee, he said.
“One day he’d have shoes, one day not,” Thompson said. “One day he’d have dirty clothes, one day not.”
He said he’d heard Pearson had knocked a woman out on Broadway once when he was panhandling and she refused him. The homeless terror has also harassed tourists when they were browsing his table, Thompson said.
“He should have been off the streets a long time ago,” Thompson said. “I believe when he takes his medication, he’s a normal person. When he doesn’t, he’s a time bomb. But he’s crazy, man. He’s a menace to society. He disrespects all the tourists and families.
“Two weeks ago, they arrested him down the block and took him to Bellevue. Out the next day. … But now they got him.”
Spring St. resident Christina Nenov is among those who have been vociferously warning that Pearson is extremely dangerous and should be off the streets.
She said the vendor’s stabbing on Monday is similar to the recent tragic incident where another mentally ill man, for no reason, stabbed two young children — one fatally — in an elevator in a Brooklyn housing project.
“There’s a big problem, but no one in government wants to touch it with a 10-foot pole,” she said. “But this was bound to happen. I think there needs to be some kind of legislation passed that gets this man — who is very sick — the help he needs. It’s clear that this man is going to relapse over and over and over.
“They’ll put him in jail, and when he gets out next time, it’ll be a murder,” she predicted. “This is an escalating problem and it’s a foreseeable problem.”
In fact, it’s not the first time Pearson has gone after someone with a knife, she said.
“He punched the halal guy, Mohammed, outside the Duane Reade on Spring St.,” she said, “opened his cart, and grabbed an 18-inch, serrated knife, and chased a guy across the street who was sitting outside Gatsby’s who had prosthetic legs.”
Almost everyone, it seems, has had a negative interaction with Pearson.
“Chipotle — they have countless stories,” Nenov said. “Marc Jacobs has had problems. Pearson was throwing chairs in Starbucks. The shoe store guy was attacked — he has some video of it online — he was pushed and shoved. Balthazar tries to keep him away with the doorman. The busboy from Spring Street Natural, I think his daughter saw him expose himself. The guy at the smoke shop at Spring and Lafayette had a restraining order against him — the day it was lifted, he went in there.”
It seems no one — and no animal — is immune from the walking quality-of-life nightmare.
“There’s a group of little old ladies from Little Italy,” Nenov said. “He would pick up their little dogs and rub his face all over them.”
Recently, the “Wild Man” ’s threatening behavior had reportedly increased and had been raising alarm among locals.
“My husband noticed — [Pearson] was off his meds,” she said.
Nenov forwarded an e-mail she received last week from the owner of a Spring St. P.R. firm:
“I called 911 on Richard so there is documentation on Tuesday, June 17th because he [was] making anti-gay slurs towards my gay male employees that night when we were returning to the office after an event around 9:30 PM. He was also lurching towards them. I instructed my staff to call the police if ever threatens them again.”
Another local woman e-mailed Nenov on June 16 to say she had seen Pearson lying on the ground at Prince and Broadway at 7:30 that morning and loudly screaming the “F” word over and over.
“I crossed over to the other side of the street, he is quite menacing,” she wrote. “I am going to call the police now.”
Myoung Suk Cho, a cashier at Deli & Cafe Cyber, on Spring St. near Lafayette St., said Pearson’s behavior is erratic.
“Sometimes he’s screaming, fighting — bothering us, bothering customers,” she said as she organized a box of candy bars on Tuesday. “Sometimes, he says, ‘Hi, Miss,’ and sometimes, ‘F—— something.’ I don’t understand.
“Usually, my husband picks me up in his car after work. One day, I took the subway and [Pearson] followed me. He was shouting at me. I don’t say nothing. …
“Sometimes he’s outside, talking to himself, screaming. … Anyway, he’s crazy.”
However, knowing Pearson is in custody is giving many Soho denizens peace of mind. The diminutive Nenov, who is disabled, was once cornered in a store by him.
“He trapped me in the little jewelry store, with a manager and two employees,” she said. “It was very, very scary. He’s blocking the entrance and he’s threatening to force us to commit sexual acts on him. And I’ll never forget — when the police came, they said, ‘We didn’t see it, so there’s nothing we can do.’ They were just kind of dismissive of the whole incident. … That was a bad day.”
As she spoke on her cell phone Tuesday evening as she walked down Spring St., she said, “I see him quite often, and I’ll just wait until he leaves, and then I’ll go home. … In a weird way, I feel safer tonight walking home.”