RANK BUFFOONS: NYPD Tickets Crash Victim For Not Wearing Helmet
12:01 AM EDT on September 24, 2020
A 23-year-old cyclist who was injured after a reckless driver cut him off after allegedly running a red light ended up in legal hot water of his own — thanks to inept cops who wrote him a bogus ticket for not wearing a helmet, which isn't even illegal.
It's just the latest example of the NYPD’s incompetence and ignorance when it comes to street-safety issues — and is a chilling warning to any victim who thinks about coming forward, said a lawyer who specializes in such cases.
“Cops issuing a summons to the victim of a crash is totally bogus," said Adam White of the law firm Vaccaro and White, which represents victims of traffic violence and is advising the victim in this case. "Now this kid has to show up in court, has to navigate the system. Who knows how it winds up? Really, that’s what cops are doing now?”
The cyclist, who wishes to be identified only as Zoltan, told Streetsblog that he was riding an electric Citi Bike in the Eighth Avenue bike lane in Manhattan at about 12:30 am on Sept. 5 when the driver ran the red light and cut him off, sending him crashing to the ground, near 20th Street. The bike was unrideable after getting smashed up, but Zoltan was luckily able to walk away with just a few bruises.
“I stayed and waited because I couldn't take the bike anywhere, my knees hurt, I had some bruises on my knees, nothing crazy, gave me a limp the next day," he said.
Three Midtown South cops — two without masks — showed up and seemed to care more about the fact that Zoltan wasn't wearing a helmet than the crash itself or whether the victim of the crash had been injured. One cop asked him why he wasn’t wearing a helmet — then cited him for violating New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law 381-6.
“Defendant did state he was not in possession of a helmet or wearing one while operating a bicycle,” the nearly illegible summons says.
The law in question does exist, but it only pertains to registered motor vehicles like motorcycles — not bicycles, or even pedal-assist electric bicycles like the Citi Bike Zoltan was riding.
“They came out and gave me a summons that said I have to go to court that I didn't have a helmet on,” he said. “It seems pretty ridiculous to me, especially since it’s not a law.”
Zoltan says he had a green light and that the driver was speeding as he turned onto Eighth Avenue, but the police report claims otherwise, stating Zoltan went through a red light. A witness told cops that he only heard the crash, did not see it, and looked up afterwards to see a red light, according to the report, which completely omits Zoltan's observation that the driver was speeding.
“It's just very annoying. I had the light [but] according to a police report, there was someone there who said I didn’t. But the car was going extremely fast and I hit the side of the car, thankfully most of the damage was done to the Citi Bike," he said.
Now, Zoltan has to show up to court on Oct. 26 at 9:30 a.m. to plead not guilty to a law that isn’t even on the books.
“You’re gonna write a bogus ticket?" said White. "This is what police are doing — God forbid he had been injured."
The NYPD has a history of wrongly ticketing cyclists for made-up rules, misunderstanding vehicular laws, especially when it involves bikers, and even blaming them for their own deaths or injuries after crashes. And after a fatal crash, cops have targeted cyclists, instead of the reckless drivers.
After 20-year-old Robyn Hightman was killed by a truck driver last June, cops handed out more than 37 percent of the summonses issued in a traffic enforcement blitz to cyclists — a shameful practice that only further enraged an already grieving community, and one which the NYPD had said last year it would stop.
Last November, police slapped a delivery cyclist lying on the floor after getting doored with a summons for riding outside the bike lane — a valid ticket under certain circumstances, but not when the bike lane is blocked by a car, whose driver could have been ticketed. Police ultimately voided the ticket.
That same month, police brass had to order rank-and-file cops to write a ticket to a reckless driver who had hit a cyclist on Queens Boulevard, only after Streetsblog and other outlets alerted headquarters to a viral video that showed that responding officers had behaved poorly.
And one victim of traffic violence penned an op-ed in Streetsblog last summer expressing how unsurprised he was by cops' poor treatment towards the victim of a road-rage incident after his own experience with trying to get police to take his crash seriously.
It's pretty common in a city where cops have long been accused of not treating cyclists fairly.
The NYPD declined to comment for this story. In the past, when Streetsblog has inquired, police commissioners say that their officers treat everyone fairly — though they can't be sure 100 percent of the time.
“I don’t know about whether all 36,000 cops love bicycles. I know one,” then Police Commissioner James O'Neill said last year, referring to himself.
[Full disclosure: The law firm of Vaccaro & White is one of Streetsblog's few advertisers.]
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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