Bypassing Courts, NYPD Says Video Cleared Lefevre Hit-and-Run Driver
Court documents reveal that NYPD decided not to charge the hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu Lefevre based on video of the crash. While it’s not clear how video footage can prove that the driver didn’t know he had hit Lefevre, it was apparently sufficient evidence for the department’s Accident Investigation Squad.
Last October, Lefevre was hit by the driver of a crane truck making a right turn at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street in East Williamsburg. The driver kept going, and was identified as Leonardo Degianni after police found the truck.
Nearly five months after his death, Lefevre’s family is still trying to wrest information about the crash from NYPD. As part of a February court filing, the NYPD legal team submitted testimony from AIS detective Gerard Sheehan. Referring to a security video obtained from a storage facility near the crash site, Sheehan writes:
“[T]he driver of the truck left the scene of the accident but denied knowledge that he had struck Mr. Lefevre. I subsequently recovered the video and I reviewed it on December 18, 2011. Had the video depicted a version inconsistent with the driver’s statements with regard to the driver’s knowledge that he struck someone, criminal charges would have been brought against the driver. However, a review of the video did not disclose such inconsistencies.”
Rather than charging Degianni for leaving the scene of a fatal crash and letting the justice system run its course, from the video AIS surmised that Degianni neither “knew [nor] had cause to know that he struck Mr. Lefevre.” Sheehan closed the case on January 4.
The documents also show that NYPD photographed the crash scene, despite an equipment checklist indicating that the AIS camera was broken. The photos were eventually turned over to the Lefevres after Sheehan mistakenly copied the wrong file twice, delaying their release. According to Steve Vaccaro, the attorney representing the Lefevres, there are no known pictures of blood and paint on Degianni’s truck, even though that evidence helped police identify the truck shortly after the crash.
Vaccaro says there are other discrepancies related to the photos: “The camera may have died in the middle of the crime scene investigation, but it appears that some of the photos taken that night may have been deleted or not produced.”
In the closing report, Sheehan writes that though Degianni did not signal before turning into Lefevre at Morgan and Meserole, Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.” Therefore, Sheehan concludes, the crash was caused by “bicyclist error.”
At last month’s hearing on traffic safety, City Council member and former prosecutor Peter Vallone said NYPD should not act as defense counsel for motorists. Yet in case after case, police pre-empt the courts by exonerating drivers who kill — even hit-and-run drivers.