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Police: Times Square 'Free Hugs' Guy Punched Woman When She Wouldn't Give Tip

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A woman visiting from Canada was punched in the face by a man offering "free hugs" when she wouldn't tip him in Times Square, according to police.

As CBS2's Dave Carlin reported, police would prefer you never take anyone up on an offer of a free hug with a stranger in Times Square. That is especially true now after the arrest of Jermaine Himmelstein, 24, who is known around Times Square as "the hug guy."

Himmelstein, who carries around a seemingly friendly cardboard sign reading, "Free hugs," stood charged Thursday night with attempted robbery and fraudulent accosting.

As 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported, a 22-year-old tourist from the Canadian capital of Ottawa was taking pictures with her friends in Times Square on Broadway near 45th Street around 10:30 a.m. Thursday when the "free hugs" guy stepped in.

The woman – identified by police sources as Sophie Violene Dauvois – accepted the embrace, but said no to the $5 tip, police said. At that point, the "free hugs" man punched her in the face, police said.

"(She was) assaulted by the 'free hugs' guy in Times Square after she refused to give him a tip," said NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neill.

The free hug guy ran off, police said. But the victim took a photo as evidence and showed it to police, who found Himmelstein in the area, police said.

Free Hugs Punching
A woman was punched by a man offering free hugs in Times Square after he wouldn't give her a tip, police say. (Credit: Karenlew17)

The woman was taken to Mount Sinai West Hospital and was treated for an injury to her eye, as well as cuts and bruises.

Some Times Square tourists said the experience is not unfamiliar.

"I had a similar thing happen to me today, where somebody was trying to get me to buy something and I said, 'Please, leave us alone,'" said tourist Jennifer Manos of San Diego. "He was like, 'You're rude,' and started chasing me; wouldn't leave me alone. There is just something needs to be done. There needs to be an extra layer of protection or something."

New York City has struggled with what to do with costumed characters and tip seekers in Times Square. Last month, the City Council approved a bill that created a zone limiting them to a certain area.

But in light of the latest incident, many have called for even tighter restrictions.

Police said Himmelstein has 14 prior arrests, many on charges of assaulting women.

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