Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Maria Coto, social worker attacked in Peekskill, dies

DA’s office to pursue upgraded charges against assailant
Entryway to the apartment building where Maria Coto was attacked. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

The Westchester County Department of Social Services worker viciously beaten for no reason on May 14 in Peekskill died on June 19 without ever recovering from her severe injuries.

Maria Coto was attacked in a vicious assault by the alleged killer, Hasseem Jenkins, at an apartment at 900 South St., according to Peekskill police.

Jenkins “… repeatedly punch[ed] [Maria] Coto with his fists and did repeatedly kick Ms. Coto with heavy boots … above the head and body causing Ms. Coto to sustain severe brain bleed, swelling of the brain, and multiple facial fractures …” according to the complaint filed by the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Coto remained on life-support at Westchester County Medical Center after the attack until the ventilator was removed in early June. Coto was 56 years old.

Following her death the union that represented Coto issued a statement from CSEA Westchester County Unit 9200 president Hattie Adams.

Photo shared with Peekskill Herald from Maria’s CSEA union.

“CSEA is devastated by the passing of our member Maria Coto,” Adams said. “We will in her memory continue to be committed to do everything possible in conjunction with the Westchester County Executive’s office to educate and to assure our membership is safe while working to service the community.

“Our condolences go out to her CSEA family, co-workers, friends and family during this difficult time.”

Unprovoked attack during social services visit

Coto was in Peekskill to make a visit to a client when she entered an apartment at the back of the South Street Deli.

According to a press report, a neighbor claims that Jenkins chased Coto into another apartment yelling “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you b****. I’m going to kill you b****.”

Peekskill police immediately responded to multiple reports of an assault in progress at 3:10 p.m. at the apartment at 900 South St. and took Jenkins, 31, into custody. He was charged with second-degree attempted murder, a Class A-1 felony, and first-degree assault. Jenkins remains in custody at the Westchester County jail.

Following Coto’s death, a spokesperson for the Westchester County District Attorney’s office said “The District Attorney’s office sends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Maria Coto on the news of her passing. The DA’s Office will pursue all appropriate charges given the change in circumstances.”

Peekskill police say their detectives will continue to work collaboratively with the Westchester County District Attorney’s office on the case, which is an ongoing investigation.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Peekskill police detective bureau immediately at 914-737-8000, or by email at [email protected].  Anonymous tips may also be made at under the crime tips section.

According to a person familiar with her work, Coto had recently moved from the child welfare department to the housing department, considered to be an assignment with less exposure to potentially dangerous situations in the field.

Legal process in the courts to continue

Jenkins appeared in Peekskill City Court on June 13 for an arraignment hearing on two cases, the attempted murder charges in the Coto attack and a prior disorderly conduct case dating back to October 2023.

Judge Reginald Johnson said the Coto case will now be transferred to court in White Plains, where a grand jury is expected to hear upgraded charges for an indictment since Coto has died. Jenkins has a scheduled court date of August 8 in Peekskill City Court on the disorderly conduct charge.

More than two dozen fellow social workers of Coto and also family members and supporters of Jenkins packed the small courtroom at Peekskill City Court on June 13. Social workers also appeared at the court on May 30 at an earlier hearing to show their support for Coto.

Jenkins was arrested on Oct. 20, 2023 in front of the Field Library and charged with disorderly conduct, a violation. According to the complaint, Jenkins was ordered to leave the area and refused, striking a relative of his who was in the plaza. He faced a maximum of 15 days in jail on that charge.

Jenkins failed to appear for a series of court dates. He did not appear in court for his first scheduled appearance on Nov. 2 in front of Judge Lissette Fernandez.

At a Dec. 14 court date he was arraigned on the charges, pled not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.

Jenkins failed to appear in court again at a Jan. 11, 2024 court date and also was missing at hearings of his case on Feb. 1 and March 14. Instead of issuing a bench warrant for his arrest, Judge Fernandez rescheduled his case to a hearing on April 18. On that date the defendant requested a non-jury trial, which was scheduled for May 16, two days after his attack on Coto.

County adds more security for social workers during visits

Following the announcement of Coto’s death, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said “We are deeply heartbroken to learn of the tragic passing of Maria Coto. Maria was a dedicated employee of the Westchester County Department of Social Services, who was brutally attacked while selflessly performing her duties. It is enraging that someone whose life was devoted to helping others was viciously taken from her friends and family.

“While we are committed to ensuring that justice is served in this case, at this moment, we wish to only focus on remembering Maria for her warmth, courage and commitment to doing good and helping people. Today, we all mourn her loss and grieve alongside her friends and family.”

On June 6, Westchester County announced additional safety measures for its staff, offering enhanced security escorts for staff during community and home visits. While DSS has long provided escort services, the new initiative expands their availability to cover more visits and programs, the county said in a statement.

“This unforeseen and tragic incident has prompted us to take immediate action to protect our personnel from further harm while they perform their duties on behalf of the County of Westchester,” Latimer said. “DSS staff perform essential work within the community, we respect them and we want to do all we can to keep them safe.” Century Protective Services, Inc. will provide escorts on a case-by-case basis to assist DSS staff.

DSS Commissioner Leonard Townes said: “Due to the urgent nature of this situation, DSS has determined that an immediate contract with a security services provider is necessary. Our employees perform the most selfless work, and we want to ensure their safety every step of the way.”






About the Contributor
 Jim Roberts
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.