NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An undercover NYPD detective accused of taking part in a motorcyclists-versus-SUV melee has been acquitted of the most serious charges but convicted of lesser crimes.
Detective Wojciech Braszczok and his co-defendant, Robert Sims, had said they believed the driver was fleeing the scene of a crime because he had just struck a biker amid the September 2013 rally on the West Side Highway.READ MORE: 2 People, Including Teenager, Injured In Upper East Side Hit-And-Run
But a judge, not a jury, found them not guilty of the top charges of gang assault and first-degree assault but guilty of second-degree assault, coercion, riot and criminal mischief. Sims was also found guilty of a more serious assault charge.
“The verdict was based on the law and evidence and nothing but the law and the evidence,” Judge Maxwell Wiley said. “I’m sure that it will be noted that the court arrived at different verdicts between the defendants. This difference was based solely on the court’s evaluation of the evidence.”
Braszczok and Sims had faced up to 25 years if convicted of the top charges. Braszczok now faces two to seven years behind bars, and Sims faces 3 1/2 to 15 years. The convictions are enough to end Braszczok’s career with the NYPD.
Braszckok entered the court with his face covered Tuesday, but left without his usual hood after dodging the most serious charges, CBS2’s Diane Macedo reported.
“Detective Braszczok has been vindicated,” said his lawyer, John Arlia. “Judge Wiley specifically stated and found on the record that he did not intentionally cause any injury. … He wishes to move on with his life, and he thanks everyone who’s reserved judgment up until this day.”
Sims did not testify. His lawyer, Luther Williams, said outside court that his client was disappointed but believed he received a fair trial.
“One of the things that we didn’t do was we didn’t put Mr. Sims on (the stand). So one of the only things that we had for Mr. Sims in terms of his intent was a statement that he made to the police,” Williams said. “All in all, very happy my client goes home today. I’m not sure what happens after that, but we did the best we could.”
Williams said he hopes what he calls mitigating circumstances will help at sentencing, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
Both men were out on bail and are scheduled to be sentenced in August.
Eleven men were indicted in the confrontation, which was captured by a rider wearing a helmet-mounted camera and later posted online. The others pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and face sentences of up to four years.
“The explosive nature of this gang assault — much of it captured on camera — was shocking, and for the victim and his family, a terrifying ordeal,” said District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. “Acts of violence can rapidly escalate, and in this case, within a matter of minutes this group of bikers began a ferocious and unrelenting assault on the victim, alarmingly close to his wife and young daughter. The convictions of eleven defendants demonstrate that gang violence of any kind is a threat to public safety that will not be tolerated.”
On the witness stand, SUV driver Alexian Lien said he and his family were headed to New Jersey for some shopping for the couple’s anniversary. But when they hit the highway in their blue Range Rover, they crossed paths with hundreds of bikers. Some were popping wheelies and slapping the tops of cars they passed.
One motorcyclist tried to block other cars from going north to allow the bikes to pass, but Lien said he was “annoyed” and wanted to get on with his day, so he kept driving. As the bikes whizzed by, his wife tossed a half-eaten plum and later a water bottle at the bikers, he said.
Tensions rose. A motorcyclist knocked off his rearview mirror, and Lien was eventually forced to stop as some bikers got off their rides and approached his car. He said he could feel it being hit and kicked.
“I’m horrified at this point, and I recall asking my wife, ‘What do I do? What do I do?”’ Lien recounted through tears. “She says, ‘Just go! Just go!”’
“And I make a hard right because I see there’s an opening and I … I just go.”
He hit the gas to get away, running over and seriously injuring motorcyclist Edwin Mieses Jr., of Lawrence, Massachusetts. He said he knew he had hit someone. “But I just wanted to escape the situation,” he said.READ MORE: Upset Neighbors Voice Concerns About Ongoing Problems At Washington Square Park While Protesters Speak Out Against Weekend Curfew
Bikers followed him off the highway, eventually pulling him from the SUV and attacking him in front of his wife and daughter.
Prosecutors said Braszczok smashed out the rear window of the SUV and then went to the passenger side of the vehicle and delivered two roundhouse kicks to the rear door and window area.
Lien needed at least 20 stitches on his face and was not charged. Mieses was paralyzed.
Braszczok testified that he followed Lien because he wanted to “stop the car from running more people over.” When he got off his bike, he intended to tell Lien to stop driving, but he heard a bang and saw the SUV window break and then started to fear for his safety, so he left.
“I should have called 911, but I didn’t,” he said. He said he regretted the decision, adding he believed the police were on their way.
“So you lied to him?” the prosecutor said.
“Yes, I lied to him,” Braszczok said.
“The reason you lied (was) you were concerned about departmental problems you might get into if you told the truth?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” Braszczok answered.
The handler said Braszczok should have called in right away to report the incident, but he didn’t call for two days, and he didn’t come clean that he’d been at the scene of the assault until even later after the helmet-camera videos were posted online.
The detective said he did not have his gun or badge on him that day while he was off-duty and did not identify himself as an officer during the attack.
Braszczok admitted participating in the rally as a member of a police-affiliated club called Front Line Soldiers.
In court, he was asked about group text messages with other members after the incident.
Braszczok texted, “The media has to blame someone so no one — we don’t speak about bike club.”
The prosecutor asked him: “A reference to the Brad Pitt movie ‘Fight Club,’ you were telling them not to talk about what happened?”
“Yeah, not to talk about it, the club, because we were getting blamed, because we were getting blamed online,” the cop answered.
Braszczok still faces a possible departmental trial and firing from the job for not calling police and for initially lying to his superiors about his involvement in the case.MORE NEWS: Tempers Flare, Candidates Take Aim At Each Other In Final NYC Mayoral Debate Before Election Day
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