NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An off-duty police detective has been arraigned on upgraded charges alleging he participated in the gang assault of a sport-utility vehicle driver last week in Manhattan.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, Detective Wojciech Braszczok was seen on video as he was escorted from court Wednesday afternoon with a hood covering his face. He was released on $150,000 bail.READ MORE: De Blasio Says City Prepared For School Staffing Shortages As COVID Vaccine Deadline Approaches
The charges against Wojciech Braszczok were much more serious than the police initially said, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported. He could face up to five years in prison if convicted on all the counts.
Like some of the other bikers, Braszczok has been charged with assault, gang assault and criminal mischief, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
Prosecutors said Braszczok forgot his duty to serve and protect. They said the off-duty detective was an active participant in the mob of motorcyclists chasing and terrorizing SUV driver Alexian Lien and his family.
Prosecutors also said Braszczok did not render appropriate assistance at the scene, failed to promptly report the beatdown at the scene, and misled investigators about his exact involvement.
A judge on Wednesday allowed audio recording in court, but no video cameras.
Assistant District Attorney Samantha Turino told Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Tamiko Amaker that witness video showed Braszczok joining in on the attack on the SUV.
“Much of what I have described, your honor – including this assault – was captured on video in what can only be described as a brutal and brazen attack on the driver and his family, in which this defendant is an active participant,” Turino told the judge. “This defendant also did nothing to stop it, including not calling 911.”
Turino claimed while some of the bikers were pulling Lien out of the SUV, Braszczok “is on video breaking the rear window of the SUV and causing it to shatter.”
He was also seen kicking the passenger-side rear door in the window area several times, Turino alleged.
“It should be noted, your honor, that the 2-year-old child of the complainant was in the back seat at the time,” the prosecutor told Judge Amaker.
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, a photo from the scene showed Braszczok riding alongside Lien’s SUV. But Braszczok’s lawyer, John Arlia, said video evidence proves he never got within 12 feet of the victim and broke an already broken window of the SUV.
“His activity in that video depict him never have coming in contact with Mr. Lien, touching him, and in no way having the intent of anyone that would have hurt him or intended to hurt him,” Arlia said.
But prosecutors said the video shows Braszczok “continues to terrorize the family” as he chased the SUV and repeatedly hit the passenger window and door.
Arlia said this was a mischief case but became an assault case because he’s a NYPD detective, Silverman reported.
Braszczok surrendered Tuesday and initially faced riot and criminal mischief charges, NYPD spokesman John McCarthy said.
His defense attorneys had previously said the 10-year NYPD veteran only witnessed other bikers attacking the vehicle.
NYPD internal affairs investigators began looking into the undercover detective’s conduct because he didn’t report having been at the rally until three days later. The expectation that police officers will act if they see crimes isn’t the same for undercover officers.
“There are legitimate questions about if you’re deep undercover, should you have exposed yourself and intervened in the middle of it,” CBS News Senior Correspondent John Miller said. “One of his accounts says ‘by the time I thought that through, it was already over.’ But on the other hand, that doesn’t explain why they didn’t come forward right away.”
The case now goes to a grand jury for possible indictment. In a somewhat unusual development, Braszczok plans to testify in hopes that the grand jury will refuse to indict him.
The NYPD said three to five of their police officers may have played a role in the Sept. 29 incident.
Investigators are also questioning the role of Narcotics Detective Samir Gonsalves. Police say he took part in the ride.
He made news in April when he was arrested for allegedly pushing an officer who was trying to break up an argument between Gonsalves and his girlfriend.
Also Wednesday, another suspect surrendered to police with his attorney at the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights. The suspect was one of several who appeared in photos released by police in the wake of the melee, police said. The photo of the suspect, identified as James Kuehne, appears below.
Charges were issued against Kuehne Wednesday evening. It was not immediately known what role Kuehne allegedly played in the incident, CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported.
To date, at least seven people have been charged in connection with their alleged involvement in the beating of Lien, including 32-year-old Clint Caldwell, who was taken into custody late Tuesday night and charged with gang assault.
He was also arraigned Wednesday on charges of assault and gang assault, CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
Police said Caldwell pulled Lien from the SUV.
“As we said from the beginning of the investigation, the NYPD and the district attorney’s office are methodically scrutinizing the evidence to build the strongest possible cases in our continuing effort to hold accountable those responsible,” said Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.READ MORE: NYPD Investigating Pair Of Deadly Shootings In Queens
Caldwell’s attorney said his prosecutors were mistaking client for another biker.
“Clearly seen from the video, he doesn’t reach into the window. There is another individual that’s standing next to him that does reach into the window, but it’s not my client,” said attorney Raymond C. Colon.
Caldwell was expected to be released on bond later Wednesday night, Aiello reported. Bail bondsman Ira Judelson said Caldwell’s wife is pregnant and was very upset in court, and she fainted and needed assistance when she got back to the bail bonds office.
On Tuesday, 29-year-old Craig Wright was arraigned on charges of gang assault and unlawful imprisonment.
Turino said Wright punched Lien through a broken window and then joined in stomping him on the street after he was pulled out of his Range Rover in Washington Heights.
Wright’s lawyer, Mitchell Elman, cautioned against any “rush to judgment” in the highly scrutinized case.
The encounter, which was partially captured on video and posted to YouTube, began when one of the bikers is seen cutting in front of Lien’s Range Rover on the Henry Hudson Parkway. He then slows down, forcing the SUV to bump his motorcycle’s rear tire.
After the collision, the bikers stop and surround the SUV. Some of the riders dismounted and approached the vehicle. Police said some began damaging the Range Rover, hitting it with their helmets and slashing its tires, though it’s not clear from the video.
Lien, who was in the car with his wife and 2-year-old child, took off, striking motorcyclist Edwin “Jay” Mieses before heading north. Lien’s wife said they had no other choice but to flee.
After being chased by the bikers for nearly two miles, Lien was pulled out of his car and beaten when he got off the highway around West 178th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, police said.
Watch The Full Video Below: WARNING — GRAPHIC IMAGES
According to Braszczok’s account, he saw motorcyclists attacking the SUV but didn’t see anyone harm Lien, his attorney said Monday. The detective also didn’t see the SUV hit Mieses, attorney Philip Karasyk said.
Carrying no badge or gun, and aware that officers have sometimes been suspended or fired for blowing their covers, “he had no other option, so he drove away,” said Karasyk, who works with the detectives’ union.
Lien was taken to the hospital after the attack, where he needed stitches to his face. His wife and child were unhurt.
Mieses broke both legs and suffered a spine injury that his family said will leave him paralyzed.
Also charged in the case is Christopher Cruz, 28, who was arraigned last week on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and unlawful imprisonment.
Police said Cruz is the one seen at the start of the video slowing down in front of the Range Rover, a move authorities said triggered the chain of events that led to the assault. His attorney has promised a fight to clear his name.
Reginald Chance, 37, was arraigned Sunday on gang assault and other charges.
Authorities said he is seen on the YouTube video smashing the Range Rover’s window with his helmet just before Lien was dragged out and beaten.
Chance’s lawyer, Gregory Watts, acknowledged his client broke the window, but said Chance didn’t participate in the assault and said they will “hotly contest those allegations.”
Another rider accused of participating in the beating, Robert Sims, 35, of Brooklyn, was arraigned Saturday on charges including gang assault.
Police said Sims is seen in the video opening Lien’s driver’s side door in the middle of the Henry Hudson Parkway. His lawyer, Luther Williams, said Sims also denies the charges.
Another biker, Allen Edwards, surrendered to police last week, but was later released without charges.
Lien has not been charged with any crime.
Meanwhile, police released new images Tuesday of four bikers they are calling persons of interest in the melee.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS, visit CrimeStoppers.com or text tips to 274637(CRIMES) then enter TIP577.
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