By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
A quick-thinking Local 374 member at a New York Public Library helped police nab a homeless man suspected in seven separate violent attacks on Asian women. Within two hours on Feb. 27, the police said Steven Zajonc, a homeless man, had punched several victims in the face, elbowed others and shoved one woman to the ground in a two-hour hate spree through Midtown and Greenwich Village.
NYPD cops arrested Zajonc, 29, and charged him with hate crimes on March 2, thanks to the keen eyes of two veteran employees at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library branch in Midtown Manhattan. Since the pandemic, there has been a rash of violent attacks on Asians across the nation. In New York City, there were 131 anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021, up from 27 the year before, according to NYPD data.
“We are proud of Lt. Cephas for his dedicated service and diligence in working with police to capture this suspect, all the while keeping NYPL patrons and staff safe,” said Local 374 President Leonard Paul.
Lt. Elmirel Cephas, a 22-year NYPL senior investigator and member of Quasi Public Employees Local 374, and Securitas Guard Roshanta Williams led cops to the suspect who was in the seventh floor family bathroom of the East 40th Street branch.
Williams saw a news report on man cops wanted a string of attacks on Asians. Cephas supervises the library guards and investigates situations that arise in the building. He looked up the story and saw the video footage police had released. “I recognized him, his sneakers and his backpack,” Cephas said. “It confirmed he was one of our regular patrons.”
Cephas knew the patron would show up around noon. “He comes in almost every day. He has unique features. He is an albino,” said Cephas. “I watched him come in and take the stairs to the mezzanine, a favorite place of his to sit. But that day someone was sitting in his spot.“
Cephas went to his office and watched on the security cameras as Zajonc took the elevator to the fifth floor then the seventh floor, where he went into the family bathroom. Cephas said, “He has a routine where he comes in and freshens up, removes his sneakers, washes his feet and changes into a pair of slippers.”
Williams kept an eye out while Cephas called NYPD. They arrived in minutes. Cephas met the police at the door and led them to Zajonc. He said, “I knocked on the door and told him to come out; others need to use the bathroom. Then the police made the arrest.”
“We have a lot of homeless people and emotionally disturbed people at this branch,” said Cephas. “I never take it for granted, and I’m aware of the surroundings. It’s my job to make sure NYPL staff and patrons are safe.”
Cephas said the man usually spends a long time in the bathroom and has other eccentricities, like washing his feet in the sink. “If someone had said that he was a suspect, I wouldn’t pick him. We never had any issues with him, so it was a surprise that he was the one police were after.”