A New York police officer who was caught on video shoving a Critical Mass protester off his bike has been found not guilty of assault.
Patrick Pogan, 24, who has since resigned from the force, was also cleared of harassment. However, he was convicted of charges related to making false statements about the incident.
Cyclist Christopher Long was initially charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest after the incident in Time Square on 25 July 2008. However, footage shot by a Florida tourist was posted on YouTube that cast doubt on Pogan’s claims that the cyclist had steered into him.
After the clip was viewed by more than a million people, the charges against Long were dropped, the city ended up paying him $65,000 to settle a lawsuit and Pogan, who had graduated from police academy less than two weeks before the incident, was put on trial.
At New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Pogan claimed he ordered Long to stop due to traffic violations. He said he strode towards the cyclist and, believing the other man was about to hit him, acted in self defence. Shortly afterwards, while fellow officers scuffled with Long, Pogan ended up on the ground. He claimed to have confused the sequence of events in his initial report.
Long faced a barrage of questions about his personal life in a bid to discredit him, and admitted being a habitual marijuana smoker and anti-government activist. The jury took two days to decide their verdicts.
District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr. said in a statement that Pogan’s conviction for lying “reinforces that no one – even a member of law enforcement – is above the law, and that inexperience is not an excuse to violate the law intentionally”.
Long said he was pleased with the verdict because it would prevent Pogan from rejoining the force. He added: “I don’t think he ever really intended to assault me.” Pogan, the son of a retired NYPD detective, will be sentenced on 23 June. He faces up to four years in prison, although a custodial sentence isn’t mandatory.
Time’s Up representative Barbara Ross has known Long for five years and regularly takes part in Critical Mass rides in New York. She said: “This is not an isolated incident. The NYPD has been targeting Critical Mass cyclists since August 2004.
“Witnessing the NYPD’s behavior toward the cyclists for so many years, I feel that it’s a cultural bias within the NYPD, and lower ranking officers are given bad information from their superiors that these rides must be stopped at any cost.
“The only way it’s going to stop is if the mayor finally takes a stand and orders the NYPD Commissioner to stop targeting these cyclists and move in line with the remainder of the city’s stated goals of greener and more bike-friendly streets.”
Long v. Pogan is the second NYPD assault on cyclists to hit the headlines in recent weeks, both involving a YouTube video. Last month, New York City paid $97,751 to five cyclists who were wrongfully detained and arrested by the NYPD during a Critical Mass ride in March 2007.
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Sergeant Timothy Horohoe for the excessive force he and the officers under his command used. Sgt Horohoe had pushed protester Richard Vazquez, 55, off his bike.