One of Mayor Eric Adams’s closest advisers is being formally investigated over a violent incident at a Manhattan migrant center, people with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.
The inquiry by the city’s Department of Investigation is the latest scandal involving Timothy Pearson, the longtime confidant of the mayor, who left his private sector position at the Resorts World New York City casino last year after The New York Times reported he was drawing two salaries and a police pension while working for the casino and City Hall.
The investigation, which has not been reported before and is in its early stages, focuses on a physical altercation between Mr. Pearson, a retired police inspector, and security officers at a migrant respite center he tried to inspect.
Multiple witness statements acquired by The City, which first reported the altercation, and The New York Times described Mr. Pearson seeking to enter the Midtown Manhattan migrant center on the afternoon of Oct. 17. He appeared to be offended when multiple workers asked that he produce identification, in keeping with migrant center protocols.
“The man was becoming increasingly aggressive, saying things such as, ‘You don’t need to know who I am,’ and ‘After today, you don’t have a job,’” Sarah Paul, a 21-year-old shelter worker, wrote in one of the witness statements. The report later identified the man as Mr. Pearson.
“He then proceeded to push the security guard so hard that she tumbled into the receptionist table,” Ms. Paul wrote. When reached by phone, Ms. Paul said she was comfortable being identified as a witness.
Several other witness statements describe Mr. Pearson threatening the security guard’s job. The interaction sparked a fight that one witness described as a “large brawl.” Another described it as a “very large scuffle,” “a melee” and “a clearly out-of-control situation.”
When the police arrived, the security guard who was pushed by Mr. Pearson was arrested, as her colleagues yelled at the police that they had gotten the wrong person, two witness statements said. The guard declined to comment when reached by phone on Tuesday.
The police also arrested Terrence Rosenthal, another security officer, who is described in the witness statements as having asked Mr. Pearson for his identification.
Mr. Adams said on Tuesday that the altercation was “under review.”
In preparation for his weekly question-and-answer session with reporters on Tuesday, the mayor’s press office formulated talking points to anticipated questions about Mr. Pearson, a copy of the talking points acquired by The Times indicates.
Mr. Adams was advised to say that the safety of the migrants in the city’s care and the safety of those who care for them is “our top priority” and it was commonplace for city workers to conduct “unannounced quality assurance inspections.”
The mayor, however, chose to expand on those talking points, suggesting that Mr. Pearson was the victim of the intense pressure city officials are facing as they try to grapple with an influx of more than 100,000 migrants, many of whom remain in city care.
“Let’s be clear, this is what happens when you are dealing with a crisis of this magnitude,” Mr. Adams said, noting that he had known Mr. Pearson for over 30 years and had never witnessed “a violent action” by him.
The scope of Mr. Pearson’s City Hall portfolio remains unclear, though the mayor on Tuesday said it involved conducting spot checks at migrant shelters to make sure they were following the rules. Previously, city officials said Mr. Pearson, who earns a salary of $242,600, was working with law enforcement, advising the mayor on Covid recovery, interfacing with the business community and trying to keep city schools open during the pandemic.
The Department of Investigation inquiry represents the latest instance of Mr. Adams’s orbit drawing scrutiny from law enforcement agencies. In September, the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, indicted Eric Ulrich, Mr. Adams’s former buildings commissioner and senior adviser, on 16 felony charges, including counts of conspiracy and taking bribes. Mr. Ulrich pleaded not guilty.
In July, Mr. Bragg charged six individuals, including a retired police inspector who worked and socialized with Mayor Eric Adams, with conspiring to funnel illegal donations to Mr. Adams’s 2021 campaign.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg’s office said it is continuing to investigate the incident that resulted in the charges against the two security guards, but declined to elaborate. The people with knowledge of the separate Department of Investigation inquiry said the agency’s investigators visited the midtown migrant center, rented from Touro University, last week.
Mr. Rosenthal ended up spending more than a day incarcerated, according to Redmond Haskins, a spokesman for the Legal Aid Society, which is representing Mr. Rosenthal in court.
“Terrence Rosenthal, who has no prior contact with the criminal legal system, was merely doing his job as a security officer and following protocol when Tim Pearson attempted to forcefully enter the Touro respite center for new arrivals,” Mr. Haskins said. He urged Mr. Bragg “to immediately dismiss the charges pending against Mr. Rosenthal.”
The scuffle resulted in injuries to two other guards:one sustained an injury to her shoulder and was taken to the hospital, and another sustained an injury to his right forearm, the report said.
“I knew that taking this job would come with some risk, but I never expected the threat to come from an employee of the city,” Ms. Paul wrote.
The episode at the Midtown shelter followed another incident at a migrant center on Randall’s Island several hours earlier, when Mr. Pearson, accompanied by more than 100 law enforcement officers, two drones and a helicopter, descended in search of several individuals who had allegedly assaulted an officer. That incident was also first reported by the City.
When asked if he had a warrant, Mr. Pearson again got upset and threatened a shelter worker’s job, according to a report of the incident obtained by The City and The Times.
It was unclear on Tuesday whether DOI is also investigating that incident.
The Department of Investigation, founded in 1873 in response to Boss Tweed’s looting of city coffers, conducts civil and criminal inquiries focused on municipal corruption and other malfeasance, and reports to the mayor and the City Council, though the City Charter gives it authority to operate independently of both.