NEW YORK - An undercover New York Police Department detective was acquitted Tuesday of the most serious charges but convicted of lesser crimes for participating in a motorcycle rally that devolved into highway pandemonium as an SUV driver was pulled from his window and beaten bloody in front of his wife and toddler.
Detective Wojciech Braszczok and his co-defendant, Robert Sims, said they believed the SUV 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 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.
Eleven men were indicted in the confrontation, which occurred on Manhattan's West Side Highway. The others pleaded guilty to lesser crimes.
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 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 with his vehicle, Edwin Mieses, was paralyzed.
Braszczok testified that he followed Lien on his bike 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 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.