Apartment manager Patrick Cerceo was checking on a residential building on Harlem Avenue one early afternoon in December when a blanket was thrown over him and he was beaten by three men. One of the assailants used, and eventually destroyed, a metal tennis racket in the attack.

For at least part of the beating, Cerceo managed to stay on his cell phone with police, which eventually lead authorities to the apprehension of all three men. The property manager was wounded and bleeding, but he survived the assault.

“I knew the police were on their way,” Cerceo said. “But as quick as they are, it only takes a minute to kill someone.”

At the time of the attack, several of Cerceo’s tenants at 1013 Harlem Ave. had fallen victim to a series of burglaries in the area. As a preventative measure, Cerceo began patrolling the area every couple hours. At noon on Dec. 14, 2006, Cerceo spotted a man in an apartment that wasn’t his. Ray Carter, a resident of the building, said the apartment was his cousin’s, but Cerceo was unconvinced and called the police. Upon calling, two more men emerged from another apartment, and all three proceeded to beat him.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” Cerceo said. “I thought only one person was involved in the whole thing, but then I saw the others, and then it was too late to get away.”

Cerceo was able to stay on the phone long enough to report the three suspects. However, the phone was knocked out of his hand. Sgt. Mike Murphy, who has known Cerceo for a number of years, wasn’t surprised by Cerceo’s determination.

“He’s a pretty tough guy,” Murphy said. “He wasn’t going to let some injury stop him. His focus was on catching these guys.”

The police arrived within moments to find Cerceo in rough shape. He was bleeding from his head and both hands. Cerceo had used his hands to cover himself during the attack.

Knowing that Cerceo had called the police, the three suspects fled the property. Carter left in a stolen car, but was quickly boxed in by two police cars. The other suspects ran from the property, refusing all orders to stop. A foot chase ensued, and they were eventually caught.

All three suspects confronted by Cerceo allegedly admitted to two burglaries that day, and provided information on prior burglaries in the area, according to police. An inventory of the property showed that among the stolen goods were a TV set, jewelry, toys, a digital camera, and credit cards.

In conjunction with the mayor, the police department has conducted a series of neighborhood meetings in Forest Park to address criminal activity. Chief James Ryan has stressed the importance of reporting all suspicious activity, even if nine out of 10 times nothing criminal actually happens.

“A lot of times people see things but they don’t call us,” Ryan said. “As soon as you observe something suspicious, back off and call the police.”

For his bravery, Cerceo received an award from the police department at the Jan. 22 village council meeting.

Carter, 29, and Chicago residents Maurice Christian, 19, and Kendale Nichols, 18, were charged with two counts of burglary. Carter, who attacked Cerceo with the tennis racket, was given an additional charge of aggravated battery. A preliminary court date was set for Dec. 19. The cases are still pending.