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Gov. Hochul orders suspect of unprovoked attack who was released due to bail reform back in jail

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A man accused of putting a Bronx resident in a coma during an unprovoked attack last week has been taken back into state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision custody at the behest of Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Bui Van Phu, 55, was initially released without bail after Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark downgraded his charges from attempted murder to third-degree assault and second-degree harassment, both misdemeanors and non-bail eligible offenses.

“I took action into my own hands,” Hochul said at an unrelated press conference Friday afternoon. “As of minutes ago, that person is now in custody. That is at my direction.”

Phu was on life parole after a 1995 rape conviction, Hochul said. The governor on Friday said she asked state officials to determine whether the Aug. 12 assault was a parole violation.

The Bronx district attorney’s office said in a statement that it would look at bringing additional charges against Phu as the investigation unfolds.

Phu allegedly walked up behind Jesus Cortes, 52, outside a Fordham Heights restaurant around 10:45 p.m. that day and struck him once in the head, knocking him to the ground, according to the NYPD and video footage provided by the department.

Police said Cortes was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured skull, a broken cheekbone and brain bleeding. Emergency responders arrived and transported him to NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi, where he had brain surgery, according to police. He is now in a medical coma, the NYPD said.

Since taking office, Hochul has been at the center of a debate around bail reform laws first passed in 2019.

During budget negotiations this year, she held up the budget, in part, to tweak those laws, but has resisted further rollbacks asked for by critics including Mayor Eric Adams and her Republican gubernatorial opponent Lee Zeldin, a Long Island congressman.

Hochul on Friday said she was “also asking our district attorneys and our judges, once again, to closely examine the laws that were changed and in effect as of May 9.”

“Judges have wide discretion to set bail or to hold someone,” she said. “I’m putting an emphasis on hold someone. That has to happen.”

The laws changed in the April budget addressed repeat offenders in cases of theft, and made more gun charges and hate crime bail and arrest-eligible, none of which would apply to this assault. Laws already on the books would allow law enforcement and judges to jail a parolee charged with crime, according to the Legal Aid Society.

In a release, the NYPD said Phu followed Cortes from inside the restaurant, put on gloves and attacked him “without prior conversation or altercation” before reentering the restaurant and fleeing.

Phu later told his parole officer, “I’m in trouble. I hit someone and he’s in the hospital,” a complaint filed with the Bronx district attorney’s office alleges.

“I don’t know if he’s dead. The police are looking for me,” Phu added, according to the complaint. State officials said Phu is currently being held on Rikers Island.

“After a thorough investigation, DOCCS directed Mr. Van Phu Bui to report to his parole officer this morning,” the state corrections department said in a statement Friday. “He was taken into custody on a non-technical DOCCS warrant without incident and will be held.”

According to changes to state parole laws implemented earlier this year, parolees detained on non-technical violations are required to have a hearing within 24 hours.

Technical violations are non-criminal parole violations, including a missed curfew or a positive drug test, according to the Legal Aid Society.

Phu’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

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