GRAMERCY, Manhattan (WABC) -- Police arrested the man accused of assaulting an 11-year-old girl at a park in Manhattan on Wednesday.
29-year-old Nathaniel Direnzo is facing several charges including strangulation and assault.
The assault happened around noon at Stuyvesant Square Park, located at Perlman Place and East 16th Street, and apparently stemmed from a dispute between pet owners at a dog park and the students who use the park for recess.
Authorities say the girl was at the park with her classmates when one of the dog owners approached her and began to yell at them for throwing popping objects that may have been scaring the dogs.
Video shows the school kids throwing the firecrackers, and the dog owners yelling at them as an apparent chaperone lost control of the situation as it escalated and turned physical.
The kids seemed to throw dirt at the yelling dog owners, and the girl seems to try several times to attack the man who ends up hitting her.
When the girl fought back, police say the man grabbed her hair and punched her in the left side of her face. He also allegedly wrapped his hands around the girl's neck and began strangling her.
Another classmate at the park, a 15-year-old boy, tried to intervene and was also struck.
Other dog owners like Pete Ghiorse got involved, not realizing the extent of what happened, and they saw Direnzo eventually leave.
"I didn't know what was going on, so me and another guy got in the middle of it and broke it up," he said. "I think he heard the sirens, and he booked it."
The dog owners agree Direnzo had no right to attack a child, but they say the kids shouldn't be acting this way around dogs either.
"There's no supervision," dog owner Wendy Slater said. "It's been going on for years. That was the nice thing about COVID. They weren't here."
The girl was taken to Mount Sinai Beth Israel in stable condition, while the boy was treated at the scene.
Multiple witnesses told Eyewitness News that people who use the park have been concerned about Direnzo and his treatment of other people and his own dog.
One woman named Rachel who saw the whole thing hopes he is charged and prosecuted.
"I hope they find this man," she said. "This man grabbed her by the neck, her chest, and punched her in the head. Eleven-year-old Black youn girl. This is not normal. He's dangerous."
She said she confronted Direnzo and asked him why he did this, and that he told her he could get away with it.
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