City Pays $98,000 to Critical Mass Cyclists
The New York Times
March 30, 2010
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
New York City agreed Tuesday to pay tens of thousands of dollars to five cyclists who filed a lawsuit saying they were harassed during the monthly cycling group-ride Critical Mass — including one man seen on videotape being shoved off his bicycle by an officer. As part of the settlement, the city will pay the cyclists a total of $97,751, with each plainpng receiving $500 to $30,000 apiece and their lawyers receiving a total of $35,000.
The cyclists claimed that they were wrongfully detained and arrested during the March 2007 Critical Mass ride, a monthly event in which dozens and sometimes hundreds of cyclists ride through the city in a cluster to advocate nonpolluting forms of transportation.
The city and the Critical Mass riders have clashed for some time. On one occasion in 2004, just before the Republican National Convention, a large number of officers arrested hundreds of riders on charges that included parading without a permit. Critical Mass, meanwhile, has accused the Police Department of harassing riders over minor infractions, such as broken lights or leaving the bike lane.
In one video clip of the March 2007 ride that was posted on YouTube, one rider, Richard Vazquez, 55, is seen being pushed off his bike by a police officer in Times Square. The officer then stands him up, places him over a garbage can, and arrests him. The arresting officer, Sgt. Timothy Horohoe, was eventually reprimanded, according to city records.
“While I’m pleased with the monetary victory for myself and the other plainpngs, there will be no real justice until the higher-ups in the N.Y.P.D. are held accountable for their actions, and it is not just the low ranking officers who are punished,” Mr. Vazquez said in a statement.
A similar episode in which a different officer, Patrick Pogan, was videotaped knocking another man, Christopher Long, off his bicycle during a Critical Mass ride in 2008 became widespread after it was also posted online and led to assault charges against the officer, who later resigned.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department said that the city did not view the lawsuit as a Critical Mass case per se because the arrests “had nothing to do with the fact that the large group of bikers was riding together, but rather the unique behavior of each individual arrested.” Mr. Vazquez, the department said, was arrested after he ran a red light in Times Square.
Michael Gertzer, the lawyer who handled the case for the city, said in a statement that the settlement “was in the interest of the involved parties and appropriately resolves this litigation.”
Barbara Ross, a spokeswoman for Time’s Up, which promotes Critical Mass, called the settlement “a victory for cyclists, and for anybody participating in the Critical Mass ride.” She added that while the rides sometimes drew hundreds or thousands of riders in the past, they now typically draw only a few dozen riders, negating the need for a police presence.
“The N.Y.P.D. has been harassing the ride since 2004,” she said. “The settlement shows that the concerns that we’ve had over the years are validated.”