NEW YORK (AP) — An undercover New York Police Department detective was acquitted Tuesday of the most serious charges but convicted of lesser crimes for his role in a highway melee in which motorcyclists pulled an SUV driver out his window and pummeled him in front of his wife and toddler.
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. But a judge, not a jury, found them not guilty of the top charges of gang assault and first-degree assault but guilty of crimes including second-degree assault, coercion and riot. Sims was also convicted of attempted gang assault and attempted first-degree assault.
"I'm sure that it will be noted that the court arrived at different verdicts between the defendants," Judge Maxwell Wiley said. "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 up to seven and Sims up to 15, but they are expected to receive shorter sentences. Eleven men were indicted in the confrontation, which occurred on Manhattan's West Side Highway. The others pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and face sentences of up to four years.
"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."
On the witness stand, SUV driver Alexian Lien said he and his family were headed to New Jersey for some shopping. 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!'"
He hit the gas. 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. Lien needed at least 20 stitches on his face and was not charged. The biker Lien hit, Edwin 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. He later lied about his involvement to his superiors. Braszczok was suspended and due to be fired because of the convictions
Sims did not testify. His lawyer, Luther Williams, said outside court that his client was disappointed but believed he got a fair trial.
"This is a case where there was bad behavior on behalf of a lot of folk," Williams said. "In the heat of the moment they did some dumb things."
Both men were out on bail and were to be sentenced in August.