NEW YORK, N.Y. – The family of a woman accused of shoving an Indian man to his death in front of a subway train called police several times in the past five years because she had not been taking prescribed medication and she was difficult to deal with, authorities said Monday.
Erika Menendez, 31, was being held without bail on a murder charge in the death of Sunando Sen. She told police she pushed the 46-year-old India native because she thought he was Muslim, and she hates them, according to prosecutors. They’d never met before she suddenly shoved him off the subway platform, because she “thought it would be cool,” prosecutors said. The victim was Hindu, not Muslim.
It wasn’t clear whether Menendez had a diagnosed mental condition. But her previous arrests and legal troubles paint a portrait of a troubled woman.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly would not say what medication she was taking or whether she had a psychiatric history. Authorities were called to her home five times since 2005 on reports of an emotionally disturbed person.
In one instance, police said, she threw a radio at the responding officers.
Menendez had been arrested several times, starting when she was young. In 2003, she was arrested on charges she punched a 28-year-old man in the face inside her Queens home, but the case was later dropped. She pleaded guilty later that year to assaulting a stranger on the street near her home. The victim, retired Fire Department Chief Daniel Conlisk, said the attack was violent and relentless.
He said he was sorting recyclables outside his home one night when Menendez approached him and punched him in the face, screaming that he was having sex with her mother.
He said he tried to fend her off as she clawed at his skin. He eventually broke free and went inside his home, where he called police. When they arrived, he said, she was still outside screaming about him having sex with her mother, and saying he had stolen jewelry from her in high school.
“That’s when everyone realized there’s really something wrong with her,” he said. Conlisk, 65, said he took out two restraining orders against her but never saw her after he was attacked.
He said he felt bad that he pressed charges, but she seemed dangerous.
“I really believe if she had a knife she would have killed me,” he said.
In December 2003, Menendez was arrested for cocaine possession. She was given a conditional discharge after pleading guilty.
Last Thursday, witnesses said a woman pacing and mumbling to herself suddenly shoved Sen off the elevated platform of a No. 7 train that travels between Manhattan and Queens. She fled.
Menendez was spotted by a passer-by who called 911 and said she resembled the wanted suspect. When she was arrested, she told police she shoved Sen because she blamed Muslims and Hindus for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and had been “beating them up” ever since, according to authorities. She said she thought Sen was Muslim. Sen, a Kolkata native, owned a print shop and lived in Queens for decades.
She laughed and snickered so much during her court hearing last weekend that the judge admonished her. The attorney who represented her only for her arraignment said she acted the same way with him when he tried to speak with her. He had no further comment.
Calls to Menendez’ home on Monday were unanswered. Angel Luis Santiago, who used to work at the Queens building where Menendez’s mother and stepfather live, said he was shocked by her arrest on the murder charge.
“It surprised me what she did,” he said. “She never acted that way.”