Cops Allowed A Driver To Harass a Cyclist He Doored — Then Wrote the Cyclist a Ticket
12:01 AM EDT on July 29, 2019
A Flatbush resident was left "traumatized and hurt" not only by the Brooklyn motorist who doored her and sent her tumbling to the street — but also by the NYPD officers who were patronizing, obtuse and ignorant after the victim called them to punish the law-breaking driver.
New York's Finest focused more on interrogating and ticketing Claudia Galicia after she was doored, instead of writing up the driver who opened his door into her path on Flatbush Avenue on Thursday night.
It all started at around 9 p.m. when Galicia was riding back to her apartment on Martense Street in Flatbush, she said. As she biked near Linden Street, she said that a man opened his door without first ensuring that the coast was clear — a violation of state law. The flung-open door hit Galicia on the shoulder, sending her tumbling to the pavement, causing bruises up and down her arm. She admits she wasn't badly hurt, but in the midst of a deadly year for cyclists, she decided she wanted to document what had happened.
"It's time for us to start reporting these cases where we're getting doored, this is the third time it happened to me this year," Galicia told Streetsblog.
She said the driver wouldn't give her his ID or insurance information, so she called the police.
That's where the story gets particularly infuriating.
The responding officers were more interested in writing up Galicia — and in letting the driver off the hook — than they were in taking down her complaint for a police report, is crucial document that crime victims need in order to pursue civil damages if there are injuries.
"The police arrived and asked me what happened, I told them, 'He opened the door and hit me and he hurt my arm,'" Galicia said. "I said I wanted to press charges, but the officer said, 'There's no charge for you to place here.'"
It is common for police officers to misunderstand vehicular rules, especially when it involves right of way or the mistaken belief that cyclists must always wear helmets. Cyclists are constantly posting about uninformed police officers on social media.
But on dooring, the rule is clear and cops should know it: New York State law specifically prohibits a driver from opening his or her car door "until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic." Drivers have doored at least two cyclists this year who were later killed in traffic: Hugo Garcia was killed on Jan. 1 on Third Avenue and 28th Street and Yisroel Schwartz was killed in Borough Park on May 15.
In Galicia's case, the responding officers also seemed unfamiliar with the fact that cyclists are legally allowed to use roads without bike lanes.
"You're getting a summons for riding on Flatbush Avenue," the officer told Galicia, though he later declined to write the ticket.
The larger issue, of course, is that the officers were "extremely dismissive" about summonsing the offender: the man who had doored Galicia, she said.
"The driver kept saying, 'I didn't open the door,' and there were these men sitting on the stoop nearby who said the driver didn't open the door, so the police just said, 'Well he has a witness.'"
By this point, of course, the officers were on hand to see Galicia be harassed by the driver and his friends.
"At one point the other two men were yelling at me, 'Get out of here' and things like that," she said. "This is an issue of how people treat women and how cops respond. They saw the harassment I was being subject to, and they just let it happen."
For attorney Steve Vaccaro of the law firm Vaccaro and White, that was the most egregious behavior by the responding officers.
"The part of the story that blows my mind is that the cops allowed the occupants of the vehicle that injured Claudia to harass and intimidate her," Vaccaro said. "They did something police officers are trained not to do. They allowed the occupants of the vehicle that doored her to engage her verbally and even get close to her and invade her space.
"If there's one thing police know, it's when they report to the scene of a traffic collision, they're supposed to separate the people involved. they're supposed to recognize the possibility of physical violence," Vaccaro added. "These police officers, according to Claudia, just allowed these guys to speak to her in this abusive demeaning way."
The officers dropped the idea of giving Galicia a ticket for riding on Flatbush Avenue — there's no law against it — but they still wound up punishing her for calling them to the scene.
"Eventually one of the officers said, 'Let me check your lights.' I use my cell phone attached to my bike as a light, which I told him, and he said, 'That's not a light, you're getting a summons for that.'"
The cop also wanted to check Galicia's back light — which did not work — but refused to believe her when she said it had obviously broken because of the crash with the law-breaking driver. Vaccaro said there is no law specifying the type of lights that are affixed to a bicycle* — a phone in a holder is legal.
"It's certainly bright enough to meet the legal requirement for a light," he said, adding that he blames the poor NYPD response mostly on poor training by police department, which often claims it is a "Vision Zero" partner of the Department of Transportation. The NYPD works under the assumption that an officer with a driver's license knows enough of the state and city traffic laws, Vaccaro said.
But Galicia's crash, and the dismissive police response, came mere hours after Mayor de Blasio announced an overdue initiative to make cycling safer citywide. It's a plan that relies more on police enforcement than reducing the amount of cars on the road in the city, which is a problem according to Vaccaro.
"The police don't really care what de Blasio says," Vaccaro said. "There's an inveterate, generations-old [anti-cyclist] attitude in the police force that is going to take something truly extraordinary to root out, because there's no clear civilian control of the military here in New York City government."
Galicia said she talked the officers into writing a report eventually, and that she wasn't going to be deterred from following up on her case, despite her feeling that the police were trying to dissuade her from doing just that.
"These police wanted to make an example out of someone from a community of color, like, 'Leave us along, we don't have time for this you crazy bicyclists.' But guess what? Most of the people who live around here ride bicycles," she said.
"There's no way I'm gonna take this anymore," Galicia added. "It's not fun getting doored. Seventeen cyclists have already died this year, so something needs to be done. If we don't do anything, more people will die."
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
*Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that there was no law that said lights must be affixed to bicycle
Dave Colon is a reporter from Long Beach, a barrier island off of the coast of Long Island that you can bike to from the city. It’s a real nice ride. He’s previously been the editor of Brokelyn, a reporter at Gothamist, a freelance reporter and delivered freshly baked bread by bike. Dave is on Twitter as @davecolon. Email Dave Colon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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