IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

NYC launches program to re-examine gay bar drugging and homicide cases

The announcement comes more than a year after two gay men were killed as part of a drug-induced robbery scheme.
Mayor Eric Adams during a press conference at NYPD Headquarters in April 2023.Y
Mayor Eric Adams during a news conference at NYPD Headquarters in April.Luiz C. Ribeiro for NY Daily News / via Getty Images file

New York City officials announced Thursday a new program to re-examine unsolved drugging, robbery and homicide cases involving LGBTQ victims, including some decades-old cases. 

The announcement, made by the New York City Police Department and the mayor’s office, comes more than a year after the deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger, who were killed in April and May of last year. Authorities later said their deaths were the result of a drug-induced robbery scheme that involved at least 16 victims, many of them men visiting gay bars. 

News of the program also comes as several of the victims have alleged the NYPD did not initially take their cases as seriously as they had hoped, NBC News reported a few months ago. At the time, the NYPD did not respond to questions regarding victims’ allegations.

Under the new initiative, LGBTQ victims whose cases have not been solved, and friends and family members of deceased queer victims, can request that the cases be re-examined by filling out an online form on the NYPD’s website. The form, which appears to be the general form to message the police commissioner, will be reviewed by officials in the NYPD’s Detective Bureau, who will then facilitate these requests.

“Every New Yorker should be able to go out at night, enjoy New York City’s renowned nightlife, and come home safely to their families and community,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “We miss Julio and John, and all the LGBTQIA+ victims of crime. LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers and visitors must be safe and feel safe, especially during Pride Month, and we are hopeful this new process will help solve more cases and answer more questions for communities.”

A spokesperson for the mayor added that the new program applies to queer victims of crimes including but not limited to homicide. 

Earlier this year, six men were charged in connection with the crime scheme that led to the deaths of Ramirez and Umberger, though only three face murder charges, according to an indictment from prosecutors. Following the arrests, several victims who reported similar crimes to police say they are still waiting for their cases to be solved. 

In December 2021, Tyler Burt reported to police that he was robbed of thousands of dollars after visiting a gay bar in Manhattan’s East Village. Burt said he believed the men who robbed him also drugged him.

He previously described the NYPD as being, at times, unresponsive and “reluctant” to work on his case. He shared with NBC News an email chain he had with the detective on his case, which showed that several of his requests for updates went unanswered for days and weeks at a time.

Burt said he has not received an update on his case since January 2022. He did, however, receive a call from the detective on his case in November, scolding him for speaking with NBC News and other media outlets, he said. At the time, the NYPD did not respond to questions about the exchange.

Immediately upon hearing about the new program, Burt submitted a request for his case to be re-examined. He said he’s not optimistic though, calling the new program a “PR move.”

“Why didn’t they didn’t they pay attention the first time around? I’m just so confused,” he said. “Why does it have to be re-examined? Because it was barely examined in the first place?”

A 48-year-old Manhattan resident who reported to the police he was robbed after visiting a Chelsea gay leather bar in October, said he was glad that authorities are re-examining old cases, but  accused them of not doing enough to warn New Yorkers of the ongoing danger. 

While authorities say the scheme went on from September 2021 to August 2022, NBC News reported last month that another incident linked to the same group of suspects — according to police sources — occurred again on March 25, four days before the first round of their indictments were issued.

“There were attacks for months that police were investigating, but there was no mechanism that highlighted that there was a rash of similar crimes hitting one community,” the 48-year-old man said in a text message. “And even after it was reported to the press, and the attacks continued, neither the mayor’s office, the police commissioner’s office or the DA made any warning to the community that this was happening.”

The man asked not to be named out of fear of putting himself in danger of retaliation from criminals involved in his encounter. (He previously worked at MSNBC — which, like NBC News, is owned by NBCUniversal — but no longer does.)

Since taking office in January 2022, Adams, who campaigned as a tough-on-crime moderate, has regularly held press conferences addressing public safety concerns. Within the last several weeks, for example, the mayor has held news conferences on gang violence in Brooklyn, auto theft and retail theft. 

But it wasn’t until April 18 — roughly a year and half after the first known incident in the drug-induced robbery scheme, and about a month after the March 25 robbery — that Adams, in conjunction with NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, held a press conference on the crime pattern, which largely targeted men at gay bars.

The press conference came a day after the final suspect in the ring was arrested, police said. When asked about the timing of the public address, Fabien Levy, the mayor’s press secretary, said there was “limited information we could publicly share given the suspects were still at large.”

Linda Clary — the mother of one of the victims who died, John Umberger — speculated that the timing “was a political maneuver” because it also took place a day after the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee held a field hearing in Manhattan to attack Bragg, a Democrat, as weak on crime and slam his office’s historic prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

“They needed a win,” said Clary, who is the chief executive of a Republican political consulting group. She added that the House Judiciary Committee invited her to testify at the hearing, but that she declined because she didn’t want to politicize her son’s death.

Doug Cohen, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, pushed back on accusations that the timing of the presser was "political."

"We held the press conference as soon as the full indictment was unsealed, which is when we could legally speak about the entire case," Cohen said in an email on Monday, after this story was published.

Levy added that the mayor’s representatives were warning bar owners and patrons, and those residing in LGBTQ neighborhoods, about the case and shared ways to stay safe. He added that the city’s Office of Nightlife held a press conference with Hell’s Kitchen bar owners in June 2022 to promote nightlife safety tips and distributed fliers on safety to various neighborhoods around the city.

The NYPD did not return a request for comment regarding the timing of the presser.

At the April news conference, Sewell pushed back when asked by NBC News whether detectives were initially dismissive because the victims were gay.

“We will never discriminate against anyone in this city,” Sewell said. “They are all part of our communities, and we will make sure that we address any concerns that they have.”

Officials noted on Thursday that some cases that could be re-examined may be referred to the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force “to determine if any possible bias motivation exists.”

“New York City is one of the most diverse places on the planet, and the New York City Police Department is committed to providing fair and equitable public safety for all,” Sewell said in a statement on Thursday. “To that end, it is critical that we amplify the voices of our LGBTQIA+ community — especially the voices of victims. This case review process reinforces that work, and in turn makes every community in our city safer.”

LGBTQ hate crimes account for the second-highest share of reported hate crimes in New York City since 2019, according to the NYPD’s hate crimes dashboard

Authorities have previously said that, although most of the victims were gay men, the suspects in the citywide drug-induced robbery scheme were motivated by financial gain and not because of their sexual orientation. 

A separate group is being investigated under suspicion of committing similar crimes on 26 victims, most of whom are not part of the LGBTQ community.