NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The Bronx County Medical Examiner today declared a homicide in the death of Juan Mendoza-Torres, 23, a Mexican man who moved to New Rochelle two months ago. This according to a New Rochelle official familiar with the case. Calls to the New York City Medical Examiner's office were not returned.
New Rochelle Police Detectives have been investigating Mendoza's death since an incident on March 28th.
Family members have claimed for weeks that Mendoza was savagely beaten that night by three men inside the El Agave Azul Mexican Restaurant located at 238 Washington Avenue. They say he was dragged outside and left on the sidewalk in a stupor.
Sources familiar with the investigation tell Talk of the Sound there were no initial indications of a severe beating. Doctors indicated that alcohol poisoning may have been the cause of death but after an autopsy by the Bronx Medical Examiner discovered a brain hemorrhage as the result of blunt force trauma the case has been classified a homicide.
According to police reports obtained by Talk of the Sound, New Rochelle police officers responded to El Agave Azul at 11:34 p.m. on March 28th.
Lt. Rodriguez, P.O. Torres and P.O Glass responded to the incident location (238 Washington Avenue) on a report of an EMS, party passed out, at 11:34 p.m. The NRPD Incident Report describes what happened next:
Upon arrival police observed a male Hispanic party in a seated position on the sidewalk and leaning on the wall of El Agave Azul Mexican restaurant. They further observed that the party was slumped over and that he was not breathing and unresponsive. They were unsuccessful in finding a pulse on the party, now know as, Juan Mendoza-Torres.
Lt. Rodriguez advised HQ to call for an ambulance and to have them expedited. P.O. Torres retrieved the Automated External Defibrillator (“AED”) from his patrol car. P.O. Glass began begun CPR. P.O. Glass continued CPR while P.O. Torres prepared the AED for use. The AED was attached and "no shock" was prompted (2 cycles), meaning that that the device has determine no shocks are necessary (i.e., the person’s heart is beating and they are breathing). CPR continued until Ambulance 1 arrived on scene.
Mendoza was transported to Montefiore New Rochelle Emergency Room where he was treated by Dr. Madore. He was later transferred to Jacobi Medical Center where he expired.
Carlos Gonzalez is the owner of El Agave Azul Mexican restaurant. New Rochelle police interviewed Gonzalez who stated that he did not know Mendoza had never seen him before and not observed him inside El Agave Azul, according to incident reports obtained by Talk of the Sound.
Gonzalez told police that a citizen described as a Male/Hispanic 5'8", heavy set, about 35 years old, entered the restaurant and advised Carlos that a party was passed out on the sidewalk. Gonzalez says he observed Mendoza on the ground with shallow breathing and immediately went back inside the restaurant where he called the police.
The initial dispatch call described the incident as a physical altercation but was quickly changed to "possible intoxication".
Police noted that El Agave Azul has surveillance cameras. Gonzalez told police they were not enabled at the time of the incident. Police took photographs of the scene with the patrol camera.
The exchange between Lt. Rodriguez and Dispatch was captured on a recording of the police scanner radio traffic (audio below).
“Unresponsive party…send the damn ambulance,” an officer shouts.
“Already did”, replies the Dispatcher. “They’re on their way.”
“Expedite,” says the officer.
“They’re expediting,” the Dispatcher says.
Fire Department incident reports obtained by Talk of the Sound, described the scene just moments later:
As Fire Department units arrived on scene they encountered New Rochelle police officers performing CPR on Mendoza. Paramedics were also on scene “handling a cardiac arrest” (applying the AED). The paramedics loaded Mendoza into an ambulance. The Fire Department was then released from the scene.
Police later found a Texas ID card that identified the man taken to the hospital as Juan Mendoza-Torres along with a cellphone.
Police have no witnesses or video that place Mendoza inside the El Agave Azul, according to the reports.
“Several people were interviewed,” said Captain Cosmo Costa. “They stated that had no knowledge of [Mendoza] being inside of El Agave Azul.”
Maria Ariaz-Perez, a reporter for Telemundo 47, the local Telemundo-owned station for the New York area, reported on the incident several days ago and interviewed Juan Mendoza’s brothers, Francisco Mendoza who traveled to New Rochelle from Kentucky and Gabriel Mendoza, who came from Arkansas.
TELEMUNDO 47: Mexicano muere tras ser golpeado en restaurante
Francisco Mendoza said he came to New Rochelle in the hope the family might get some answers, that someone who knows something might step forward.
Francisco said that what he was told by friends of his brother is that as police arrived at the front of the restaurant, the three men who assaulted his brother, exited out of the back of the restaurant. He said he was told there are surveillance video cameras in the restaurant and that witnesses recorded video of the incident on their phones.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: if you have video of any part of this incident please contact Robert Cox, robertcox@talkofthesound, 914-325-4616)]
Gabriel Mendoza said he heard his brother had some trouble the week before with some guys and that these were the same people.
Gabriel says the family is asking for justice for Juan who leaves behind a young daughter.
Beyond Telemundo, there has been no media coverage of the incident leading many in the West End Latino community to complain that that neither local media nor City Hall care that a Mexican immigrant may have been killed in New Rochelle.
One source who asked not to be identified said that although he was not at El Agave Azul that night the word on the street is that Juan Mendoza-Torres went into the restaurant and confronted three men who had harassed him the week before. When Mendoza became very macho, calling the men out, one of the three men smashed a bottle on Mendoza’s head. He was knocked to the ground. The three men then savagely beat him while he lay on the ground.
El Agave Azul is a known trouble spot in New Rochelle, one of several in the area.
Over the past three years there have been over four dozen reported police incidents including 10 Disorderly Behaviors, 10 City Manager complaints, 3 assaults, 1 Harassment, 5 noise complaints, three New York State Liquor Authority Investigations and now the death of Juan Mendoza-Torres.
In addition to police incidents, there are several open building permits for that location although the records are unclear as to which records belong to which building on the parcel. El Agave Azul has been cited for building code violations in the past and there may be more according to sources who have been inside the restaurant. Several patrons have told Talk of the Sound El Agave Azul is not sanitary suggesting there may be Health Code violations as well.
“The City of New Rochelle has closed dozens of troublesome businesses over the past fifteen years,” said City Manager Charles B. Strome. “It’s long a process which takes time.”
This past weekend, April 12th, two men were arrested on assault charges after they were stopped attempting to enter El Agave Azul by a security guard working the door. Jose Valle, 23, of 225 Washington Avenue, and Luis Diaz, 21, of 53 Walnut Street were both arrested on a charge of Assault in the 3rd degree, a class A misdemeanor.
The security guard told police that when Valle and Diaz tried to enter the premises he observed they were already intoxicated and refused them entry. The men began to argue and the security guard grabbed one of their arms to escort them out but Valle grabbed him in a choke hold around his neck to the point that he had trouble breathing. The two men punched him and he fell to the floor and then hit him several more times.
As in the Mendoza case, Carlos Gonzalez, the owner of El Agave Azul, told police he saw nothing.
An employee of the restaurant was able to capture some of the assault on her computer tablet, which according to police, clearly showed the security guard speaking with Valle and Diaz and then the ensuing fight where Valle grabs the security guard behind and around his neck.
Neighbors of El Agave Azul say there are frequent altercations involving what they say appears to be intoxicated patrons on the street outside the restaurant, mostly on Friday and Saturday night, from between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.