Member of Jewish patrol group accused of hitting teen

( Baltimore Sun/Kenneth K. Lam / December 2, 2010 )

With matching jackets and radios and a hot line staffed around the clock, members of an Orthodox Jewish citizen patrol group in Northwest Baltimore view themselves as a necessary complement to city police to keep their neighborhood safe.

But one member may have recently taken the role too far. On Tuesday, a participant in the Shomrim patrol organization was arrested after allegedly striking a 15-year-old boy and telling him, "You don't belong around here." Police arrested 23-year-old Eliyahu Eliezer Werdesheim, a former Israeli special-forces soldier, and charged him with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and false imprisonment in a Nov. 19 incident in the 3300 block of Fallstaff Road. According to court records, the teen's wrist was broken in the scuffle and he suffered cuts to the back of his head.

"Shomrim has and continues to be a good partner in making the northwest community safer," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Wednesday. "However, this individual took the law into his own hands, and the Baltimore Police Department will not tolerate acts of vigilantism from any organization."

Andrew Alperstein, Werdesheim's attorney, said his client was observing someone believed to be a criminal suspect. The boy became angry because he was being watched, picked up a stick and attacked Werdesheim, the attorney said.

"Mr. Werdesheim defended himself, and won that fight," Alperstein said, calling it "nothing more than a self-defense situation."

Nathan Willner, an attorney and Shomrim member, said the organization had suspended Werdesheim pending an internal investigation. He said the group does not condone inappropriate behavior, but he was confident that Werdesheim would be vindicated in the court system.

The teen is black, and community leaders were concerned that the incident could further strain the sometimes tense relations between the area's large Jewish and black communities. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he would demand that the incident be fully investigated.

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