04/30/2010

NYC officer convicted of lying in YouTube clash

Patrick Pogan said he was 'trying to protect himself' and never meant to misrepresent what happened

Associated Press

NEW YORK — A former police officer was convicted Thursday of lying about his Times Square clash with a bike-riding activist, as seen by millions of YouTube viewers, but was cleared of assault and harassment charges.

Patrick Pogan showed no reaction as jurors delivered their verdict, which capped a trial that underscored tensions between the city's police and a group of pro-cycling demonstrators and highlighted the growing prevalence of witness videos in law enforcement.

Biking advocates said the case had at least put their cause in a spotlight, while a police union head predicted the verdict would instill fear in police rookies. Pogan was 11 days out of the police academy when he knocked cyclist Christopher Long off his bike during a pro-cycling demonstration in July 2008.

Pogan initially reported that Long steered into him and knocked him down, but a tourist's video posted on YouTube showed the officer making a beeline for Long and shoving him off his bike. The video has garnered more than 2 million views.

Pogan testified last week that he was trying to protect himself during the encounter and never meant to misrepresent what happened.

The former officer, 24, could face up to four years in prison at his June 23 sentencing, though prison time isn't mandatory. The son of a retired New York Police Department detective, Pogan resigned from the force last year.

"He's lost the one profession he dreamed of, following in the footsteps of all his family," said his lawyer, Stuart London. "So he's paid a high price."

A Manhattan state Supreme Court jury deliberated about two full days before reaching the verdict. District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement the conviction "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."

But Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said the case would have "a chilling effect on every new, young officer ... when they realize that mistakes now become crimes."

Pogan and Long crossed paths during Critical Mass, a freewheeling, monthly pro-bicycling event held in New York and other cities around the world. The event aims to assert cyclists' rights and decry urban areas' reliance on cars and trucks.

Police began cracking down on the New York version in the summer of 2004, when more than 260 cyclists were arrested during what authorities saw as a chaotic Critical Mass ride shortly before the Republican National Convention.

The roundup has spurred years of legal fights between cycling groups and the city. The latest ruling came as recently as February, when a federal judge said the city could force groups of more than 50 cyclists to get parade permits, an idea Critical Mass has resisted.

Prosecutors and London alluded to the backdrop of friction between the police and cyclists. The defense lawyer called Pogan a scapegoat for a group with an anti-police bent, while Assistant District Attorney Ryan Connors urged jurors in his closing argument Monday not to view the trial as "a case of the New York Police Department versus Critical Mass."

But Critical Mass participants did, with several spending days in the courtroom audience. Some decried Pogan's acquittal on the assault charge but hoped the trial had sent a message.

"By all this attention, we're hoping that the police are now going to respect bicyclists," said Bill DiPaola, the executive director of Time's Up!, one of the groups sponsoring Critical Mass.

Pogan was part of a group of rookie officers assigned to keep order and watch out for traffic violations as the bicyclists passed through Times Square on July 25, 2008.

Pogan said he told Long to stop for a summons for such traffic infractions as taking his hands off his handlebars. Long, who denied hearing any instruction to stop, kept going.

Pogan strode over to Long. Each testified that he felt the other was about to hit him and maneuvered defensively.

Long was launched off his bike and landed on a sidewalk grate. He wasn't seriously hurt.

Pogan was not knocked over as he confronted Long, though Pogan later went down to the ground while officers grappled with Long. Long darted away from them and flailed and shouted "assault me!" as they tried to handcuff him, witness videos showed.

Pogan testified that he unintentionally confused the sequence of events when describing them to a supervisor and prosecutors. Long was charged with attempted assault and other offenses. The charges were later dropped, and the city paid him $65,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed.

Long's lawyer declined to comment on the verdict in Pogan's case. No telephone number could be found for Long, 31, a sometime farmer and farmer's market worker.

Jurors convicted Pogan of offering a false instrument for filing and another false-statement charge, both related to a court complaint he signed. He was acquitted of some similar charges stemming from a separate arrest report on the incident.

Pogan, who remains free at least until his sentencing, has been working construction jobs, his lawyer said.

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