Parks and wrecked.
A perverted parks worker went berserk in a Manhattan playground, exposing himself to a mom and toddler, urinating in the street and then laying down in the middle of Broadway traffic to fondle himself, according to witnesses and video footage.
The on-duty, uniformed worker, Jeremy Soto, 36, told cops, “I’m high on PCP,” after he was arrested for exposing himself in May in Fort Tryon Park in Inwood, according to a copy of the police complaint.
He was busted two days later for allegedly hugging a woman from behind on a Bronx subway platform, grabbing her breasts and kissing her neck, records show.
Why Soto was on the city payroll at all — let alone allowed to work inside playgrounds — is a mystery. He has 15 arrests on his rap sheet dating back to 2003, and in January he was charged with — and pled guilty to — twice grabbing the butt of a woman walking near the same park, cops said.
“Why was he placed in a playground?” asked a woman who witnessed the May 1 incident inside the park. “I teach my children that if they get in trouble in a public place to look for someone in a uniform, and the idea that they could have gone to him is horrifying.”
The mom of two said the sordid events unfolded on a peaceful Saturday morning as about 15 people were enjoying an outdoor Zumba class at the park’s Anne Loftus Playground.
As the instructors led the class from a park building patio, Soto walked out of the building in a jacket which said “staff” and started moving to the beat.
“He was sort of dancing, gesturing to the music,” the witness said. “Everyone sort of laughed. The teachers were good natured about it.”
They ushered Soto away gently, but then he came back.
“I noticed he was focusing on one of the teachers who was a female. He was staring at her in a way that made me uncomfortable,” she said. “He was sort of walking around after her in a menacing way.”
Soto was shooed away again, but didn’t go far. He wandered over to a nearby set of swings for babies and toddlers.
“He took his penis out of his pants,” the witness claimed. “I saw him take it out and start swinging it around and gesturing, lewdly. Crude gestures. Sexual gestures toward a mother and her toddler on the swings.”
He was calling out to the mom to try to get her attention, the witness said.
“It was awful. I was shocked,” she said. “An older woman next to me was very upset.”
The Zumba class participants reached for their phones to call police as Soto went to exit the Upper Manhattan park.
Phone video shows him standing on Broadway, relieving himself before walking stiff-legged to the striped median, laying down and, with his left hand, playing with his exposed penis.
Eleven cars drove by, most not even braking. A city bus did slow down to have a look.
The witness said Soto’s fellow park workers arrived and tried to coax him to get up shortly before the NYPD came.
Soto, who lives a few blocks south of the park, was cuffed by cop/s and taken into custody. He was issued a summons for exposure.
Soto has racked up a laundry list of offenses beginning with fare beating in 2003. He pleaded guilty to 15 crimes, including crack possession, over 18 years, serving just a few days or weeks of jail time for some of the offenses.
Despite his lengthy record, he was hired by the city in 2016, when records show he was in a job training program for the Parks Department earning $12 an hour. He also worked in the program in 2017, 2018 and 2019, records show. A Linkedin profile for a Jeremy Soto lists him as a park worker from August 2017 to present.
Soto was hired in his most recent stint as a seasonal maintenance worker on Feb. 23, 2021, and did not divulge the January arrest, said Parks Department spokeswoman Meghan Lalor. She said Soto was fired on May 1.
“Sexual assault has no place at Parks. As soon as we found out about the arrest, Parks took immediate action to terminate Mr. Soto,” she said.
As for why he was hired in the first place, the spokesman said, “If someone does list previous arrests on their application, we will look into them for any red flags, and further investigate as needed. We don’t automatically deny a candidate based on an arrest or conviction, and we don’t consider arrests where the case was dismissed. We also do background checks.”
The Post has long reported on the Parks Department’s history of hiring those with criminal backgrounds. In 2006, the department hired Michael Palamar, who killed an elderly neighbor during a botched burglary when he was 17. The department kept him on after he was charged in 2009 with groping a woman while she was doing community service. Palamar was accused in 2018 of groping a seasonal parks worker who claimed in a lawsuit that he had grabbed her thigh and nipple.
The lawsuit was later dropped. Lalor said an investigation did not substantiate the woman’s claims and that Palamar is still working for the department.
A lawyer for Soto did not return a request for comment. Soto could not be reached.
Additional reporting by Joe Marino
Metro | New York Post