NEW YORK — 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.
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. They now face significantly less time.
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, Mass. He said he knew he had hit someone.
“But I just wanted to escape the situation,” he said.
Bikers followed him off the highway, eventually pulling him from the SUV and attacking him in front of his wife and daughter.
The entire incident was captured by a rider wearing a helmet-mounted camera. The video was later posted online.
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.
The prosecutor asked Braszczok about initially telling his NYPD handler that he didn’t see the attack.
“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.
Eleven men were indicted in the melee; the others have pleaded guilty to charges including assault and riot and received or are facing sentences ranging from probation to up to four years in prison. Lien was not charged.
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.
Sims did not testify.