A good Samaritan is outraged because he risked his life to save a mom and her kids from a violent pervert at Hudson River Park — only to to learn the suspect was quickly released without bail.
“It’s basically a lawless free for all,” hero Denis Goncharov lamented of New York City, after learning the suspect will remain free until a December court date.
“Like in the movie ‘Joker,’” he told The Post.
As a dad of two grade-school-aged girls himself, Goncharov, 33, says he hadn’t thought twice about leaping between a terrified family and a deranged man who had walked up to their park bench last week and starting masturbating.
Goncharov chased the creep for more than half a mile through Greenwich Village to help cops catch him — even after the still-exposed man picked up a brick from the ground and ran at his head with it.
“What upsets me is the kids he was exposing himself to were similar age to my daughters,” Goncharov explained of his bravery. “I imagined the kids being harassed were my own.”
It was Sept. 8, a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and Goncharov — who lives in Westchester and works in finance in Manhattan — was eating his lunch on a park bench near Pier 45 off Christopher Street when he saw the man leave the nearby public restroom, pants open.
Police later identified the man as Justin Merritt, 34.
Merritt has a long misdemeanor rap sheet — mostly for criminal possession of stolen property, trespassing and turnstyle jumping, but with at least one aggravated harassment arrest thrown in, law enforcement sources said.
Merritt allegedly walked straight over to a mom and her two kids.
“From my recollection it was a boy and a girl, aged around seven to ten,” Goncharov recalled.
“They were sitting on the bench and looked very scared. They were similar age to my own kids, who were fortunately back home at this time.”
The man “started to touch himself in a sexual way, and was by this point approximately six, seven feet from the scared woman, who was attempting to cover their eyes.”
Goncharov jumped up from his own bench about 20 feet away, screaming.
“My dad instinct kicked in,” he explained.
“I tried to form a human barrier by jumping in between,” he said. “At this point, he backed off from the family and focused his attention on me.”
As the mother dialed 911, Goncharov and the man squared off.
“He was right up close to me in a very confrontational and menacing way,” Goncharov said.
“In self defense, I was forced to push him away from me, Goncharov remembered.
“At that point, he — unsuccessfully — tried to spit on me and called me ‘White trash.’”
Merritt then allegedly picked up a brick and lunged, “aiming for my head,” according to Goncharov and prosecutors.
Goncharov ducked, then grabbed a nearby orange traffic cone — more of a shield than a weapon, but it was all he could find, he said.
“Nobody else attempted to intervene,” he said, though he saw “a few people backing away and timidly filming the scene on their iPhones.”
When his adversary took off, pants still open, Goncharov followed, dialing 911 and filming the pervert’s retreat.
“I followed him for six, seven blocks all the way to Slaughtered Lamb pub, and the suspect then disappeared down into the 4th Street subway entrance,” he said.
In a 911 call recording he shared with The Post, Goncharov is heard breathlessly telling an NYPD dispatcher, “He has a brick; he has a weapon … He’s getting away from the scene. He exposed his penis to children — this man is a pedophile. He’s a sex offender.”
Police caught up to Merritt at 8 p.m., and after a night in jail, he was charged with lewdness, harassment, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon — the brick.
All four are non-violent misdemeanors. Under bail reforms signed by the governor, and in effect since January, none of the charges are eligible for bail.
At Merritt’s arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court the next day, he was assigned a lawyer from the New York County Defender Services and a judge had no choice but to release him on his own recognizance.
Even in 2019, most judges would similarly “ROR” most misdemeanor defendants, said Sergio De La Pava, the NYCDS legal director.
“Though also as a general principal the more contact you have had with the criminal justice system, the higher chance that bail would be set,” De La Pava said.
If Merritt re-offends between now and his next court date, which is Dec. 8, “potentially he could be put back in” by a judge, he added.
“A lunatic like this is able to re-offend again and again and without consequences,” Goncharov complained.
“I felt sorry for the hardworking NYPD officers who often feel so powerless,” he added.
“The law is completely letting down innocent, law abiding citizens. Shootings, burglaries and violent crime are off the charts — and is it any wonder?”
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