On a bright Monday morning in August, 18-year-old David Peralta-Mera drove his cherry red Mustang, his girlfriend in the passenger seat, into a well-trafficked parking lot off Main Street in East Hampton.
Life was looking good: Peralta-Mera had two jobs, one in food prep at Dopo La Spiaggia and the other doing maintenance at the Sportime tennis club in Amagansett. He was a rising sophomore at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The car was a recent splurge, paid for with his summer wages.
As for what happened next, Peralta-Mera doesn’t really recall. But according to police, the Suffolk County District Attorney, witness statements and surveillance video, 31-year-old Charles Harrison Streep — nephew of Meryl — drove past Peralta-Mera in his own drop-top Audi and exchanged words.
Within seconds, Streep, much taller and broader than Peralta-Mera, was out of his car and shoved Peralta-Mera. The two grappled, but Streep quickly got the teen in a chokehold, neck squeezed under Streep’s right armpit. Streep hoisted Peralta-Mera’s limp body twice, like a rag doll, then threw him to the pavement.
That afternoon, the 18-year-old was airlifted to a hospital with a Level 1 trauma center, where he underwent emergency surgery, needing part of his skull removed to treat a brain bleed. He was left with a crescent of thick, blood-encrusted staples arcing up from his right ear.
Peralta-Mera’s prognosis, in the short and long term, is unclear. His civil attorney, Edmond Chakmakian, told The Post that the teen has medical bills climbing well over $130,000, but is unable to work, let alone drive his new car. He can’t attend college this fall. Chakmakian says Peralta-Mera is “probably not going to have much of a career.”
Three days after the attack, Streep was arrested at his family’s $5 million dollar Pondview Lane estate, charged with two felonies — second-degree assault and second-degree strangulation — and released on $5,000 bail.
According to an affidavit filed with the New York State Supreme Court, Streep twice attempted to dodge a process server sent by Chakmakian to his Prince Street residence in early September.
“I was told by the doorman of the building [on two separate dates] that no one by the name of Charles Harrison Streep lived there,” process server Frankie Roberson stated.
Charles Harrison Streep did indeed live there. He is represented in this civil suit by Randy Mastro, onetime lawyer to Rudy Giuliani and co-chair with Alec Baldwin of the Hamptons International Film Festival. Streep is required to make his first statement in the civil case Tuesday.
This defendant, it turns out, has something of a violent past.
Chakmakian’s own investigation has dug up a prior disorderly conduct charge against Streep from 2012, his guilty plea entered in a Pennsylvania court.
Care to guess how this is playing out?
The Suffolk County DA’s office recently lowered both charges against Streep to misdemeanors, bail exonerated. Peralta-Mera and his family struggle to understand why.
“I could have died,” Peralta-Mera told me recently.
We were sitting in the living room of the small, immaculate home where he lives with his mother and older brother, situated at the end of a hidden East Hampton road. The kitchen was tiny and utilitarian. Models of classic cars sat on the living room shelves, collected by his father, who works in construction.
Peralta-Mera’s mother takes care of other people’s children. She was about to send her younger son out into the world, but now it’s unclear how long he’ll need her help.
“I was in [the hospital] for a week,” Peralta-Mera said. He’s now very sensitive to bright light and has trouble watching TV. He can’t play video games or read or work out. He struggles to concentrate and sometimes loses his train of thought 10 seconds into a conversation.
Peralta-Mera is athletic, but shorter and slighter than he photographs. His affect is flat and resigned, the huge scar on his skull a daily reminder of how close he came to dying.
“My head was swollen the first month and a half,” he says. Now, “I have to stay inside. Just a lot of doctor appointments and neurologist appointments.” Last week was another CAT scan and an MRI.
This case gets at two lightning rods no one in the Hamptons ever wants to touch: class and race. But the realities of life here, the vast chasm between the haves and have-nots, became unavoidable in the early days of the pandemic, with rich Manhattanites — some knowingly infected — fleeing to their second homes out East, stripping all the grocery stores bare, buying second freezers at the P.C. Richard & Son in Southampton to hoard their food, then bragging online about their plenty.
As spring gave way to summer and the COVID curve flattened, tensions eased. More full-time residents out here means more work for local maids, landscapers and caretakers — manual laborers who, like Peralta-Mera and his family, most often belong to East Hampton’s huge Ecuadorean population. These men and women are visible in the daylight hours pruning trees, cleaning houses or fixing rooftops. At night they fall into the shadows while the 1 percent comes out to play.
“The Hispanic subpopulation out here is made up of exceedingly hard-working people with deep religious roots,” Chakmakian said. “I have another client injured on the job, a well-known general contractor, dumped out in front of Southampton hospital unconscious. These people are treated as expendable.”
Streep’s demeanor since the attack has been one of arrogance and entitlement. A few weeks after his arrest, he was photographed shirtless and carefree on the fire escape of his luxury Prince Street apartment, then later that day playing basketball with friends, telling the press to “talk to my lawyer.”
Along with three dozen protesters, Peralta-Mera attended a rally outside East Hampton Justice Court on Oct. 8 during a virtual hearing. Streep was a no-show — the accused was photographed strolling casually in Manhattan, coffee cup in hand. A GoFundMe called Help David, established by Kurt Wenzel of his “Dopo family,” has so far raised $29,990 of a $100,000 goal to help pay medical bills. On Oct. 25, supporters again gathered outside the courthouse in East Hampton, chanting, “David, friend, we are with you,” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Yet Charles Streep looks like he’s getting a wrist-slap at best.
“In our view, the recent court proceedings simply confirm what we have said all along — that Mr. Streep was innocent of both of the serious violent felony offenses with which he was charged,” Streep’s lawyer, Andrew J. Weinstein, told The Post. “We are confident that Mr. Streep will be fully vindicated.”
As to why the charges were reduced, the Suffolk County DA’s office said in a statement, “This incident was captured on video, and the charges brought against the defendant are the appropriate charges under the law.”
That video is online for anyone to see. Watch it and ask: If the attacker had been Hispanic, the victim white, and the consequences as grievous, would these charges have been reduced?
For his part, Peralta-Mera says he’d “like to think [more of] the criminal justice system” than allowing fame, wealth and connections to influence his case. In fact, he dreams of returning to John Jay and pursuing his dream of working in law enforcement as a detective.
What happened to him, he says, “encourages me more. I feel I have to be out there and be of help.”