- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2016

A Times Square mainstay who advertises “free hugs” to tourists was arrested Thursday after allegedly punching a Canadian woman in the face when she refused to give him money.

Jermaine Himmelstein, 24, was arrested and charged with robbery causing physical injury and fraudulent accosting related to the Thursday morning incident, the New York Police Department said.

Known across Manhattan as the “Free Hugs Guy” because of a sign he often carries, police said Mr. Himmelstein punched a female tourist in the face on Broadway near West 45th Street when she wouldn’t pay him after she snapped a photograph.

A New York Police Department said the victim was a 22-year-old woman from Ottawa identified by law enforcement sources to the Daily News as Sophie Violene Dauvois.

Police said the woman took a picture at around 10:45 a.m. early Thursday of Mr. Himmelstein, who then demanded money. When she refused three times to pay, police said he struck her with a closed fist.

The victim was taken to an area hospital and treated for severe swelling and a cut to her right eye before being released.

Mr. Himmelstein was arrested around four hours later several blocks south of the theater district in Union Square by an NYPD officer who recognized him based of a mugshot related to a previous incident.

“I was aggressively asking for tips,” Mr. Himmelstein acknowledged Thursday evening as he was escorted by police out of the Midtown North precinct, Gothamist reported.

“He is no stranger to this,” NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill told reporters. “He has multiple prior arrests, and several were for the same type of offense.”

Mr. Himmelstein has been arrested 16 time since 2012, according to Daily News and was the subject of a New York Times article the following year that profiled the “Free Hugs Guy.”

Identified then as an autistic East Harlem resident, Mr. Himmelstein told The Times he gave out huge “to make people stay better.”

While in custody Thursday, Mr. Himmelstein was additionally charged over an alleged assault that happened at a Times Square subway station on April 29, police said.

Thursday’s arrest comes hardly a month after the New York City Council voted to let the let the NYC Transportation Department set new rules for Times Square, the likes of which are expected to rein in entertainers and costumed characters who solicit tourists for tips, occasionally aggressively.

“People should be able to walk through Times Square without being harassed and harangued,” Councilman Corey Johnson, a Democrat who supported the measure, told The New York Times last month.

The NYC Transportation Department is expected to introduce new rules and regulations that will limit the portions of Times Square where individuals are allowed to solicit passersby.

When the City Council voted 42 to 1 last month in favor of letting the Transportation Department take control over the area, 16 entertainers had already been arrested in 2016 for charges including assault, aggressive soliciting, forcible touching and grand larceny, The Times reported.



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