2007-06-06 – 6th Street Bike Blitz – Villager

The Villager
June 6 – 12, 2007
By Jefferson Siegel


On the evening of Wed., May 30, police descended on E. Sixth St. between First and Second Aves. and began impounding bicycles that had been locked to street sign poles.

As bystanders watched and neighbors hurried to alert bike owners, police used a circular saw to cut through locks and chains, confiscating some 50 bicycles in all. Some people were allowed to claim their bikes at the scene after their locks had been cut.

Robert Carnevale, 22, a cinematographer who lives on the block, asked for the name of a plainclothes officer who appeared to be supervising the operation. The officer, who identified himself as Lieutenant Corcoran, asked Carnevale for identification. Lieutenant Robert Corcoran is in charge of the Ninth Precinct’s special projects.

Carnevale, who had been videotaping the encounter, was arrested. Carole Vale, a Sixth St. resident who had been observing the incident, also was subsequently arrested. Both were charged with disorderly conduct. Carnevale was held for 22 hours, Vale for 13 hours.

At a press conference Monday morning at Time’s Up!, the East Village environmental advocacy group, Carnevale’s video was shown. In the video, Corcoran turns toward the camera and is heard asking Carnevale for identification. “I am allowed to…” Carnevale is heard saying, then produces valid Rhode Island identification. “He thought it was phony,” Carnevale recounted.

While being questioned by police, Carnevale handed the camera to his girlfriend, Caroline Dorn, who continued taping. At one point, Corcoran looked in her direction and asked her for ID. When she replied she didn’t have any, Corcoran advised her, “You better go home and get some.”

Carole Vale, 58, an intravenous-therapy nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital, was just coming home from a 12-hour nursing shift when she happened upon the scene. 

Stunned at the sight of bikes being cut in half when their fortified locks wouldn’t yield to the saw, Vale went upstairs to find the phone number for television news departments. She called cable news channel NY 1 to alert them to what was happening and then returned to the street.

“They were cutting off bicycles from No Parking signs,” she recalled. “The bicycle owners were very upset. The police weren’t allowing them to take their bicycles, tossing their bicycles into a van.”

Vale walked to the corner where Carnevale was taping the scene.

“Nobody did anything that was threatening,” she said of her and Carnevale’s actions. After Carnevale was handcuffed and placed in a police car, the camera pointed at Corcoran in the front seat as Vale is heard asking for his name. “Do you have a card?” she asked the lieutenant. 

Vale said Corcoran left the car, told her to stand by the corner deli and asked for identification. “You’re being arrested,” she recalled being told. When asked on what charge, she was stunned when Corcoran replied, “Public intoxication.” Vale said she demanded a Breathalyzer test and was refused. Over the course of the next 13 hours, most of it in handcuffs, Vale was taken Downtown to central booking, to two different precincts and to Bellevue Hospital. 

“I’m not a hardened criminal,” Vale said later. “It’s outrageous, it’s unconstitutional that in 2007 the Police Department feels they’re entitled to that kind of power. We weren’t committing a crime.”

“Our community really came together about this issue,” Dorn said at the press conference. “The East Village is built on using their bicycles.” The E. Sixth St. block is home to a swath of Indian restaurants, many of which use bikes for deliveries.

“What happened that night is simply unacceptable,” Norman Siegel, the civil rights attorney, stated at the press conference. He decried the lack of due process in Wednesday’s operation, noting that another recent decision, Bray v. NYC, required the city to give prior notice of any bicycle confiscation.

Calls to the Ninth Precinct requesting information were not returned by press time. Paul Browne, the department’s chief spokesperson, e-mailed the following statement: “The precinct commander responded to complaints by the 10th St. Block Association president, Marilyn Appleburg, Jack Brown, of the Committee to Restore Safe Sidewalks (6th St.), and others in the community about problems of chained bikes between First and Second Aves. in particular.” Browne said some bikes were returned at the scene and others at the precinct if people could prove they were the owners.

Browne added the bikes were taken because, “They were in violation of NYC Administrative Code 16-122 [which] prohibits leaving the bikes there. There were two arrests: one for disorderly conduct; the other for disorderly conduct and a misdemeanor drug charge.”