When Cops Lie…
…about people trying to run them over: two cases of attempted vehicular homicide that simply didn’t happen
Item: No jail time for ex-NYPD detective who perjured himself. The officer claimed the accused had driven his car directly at him, requiring him to jump out of the way to avoid being killed. A serious crime that could have meant many years in prison for the driver.
Here’s a twitter thread from public defender Scott Hechinger, who represented the falsely, maliciously accused guy:
Under oath, [the officer] told the grand jury a story out of an action movie. How he had to leap out of the way to save his life. How he scratched his arm on the pavement. How he thought he was going to die. The grand jury believed him & voted to indict Barbosa. Thankfully, there was video.
Yes, thankfully, a car mechanic shop in the area had surveillance video, the only way by which such cases come to light. The attempted murder by car simply didn’t occur. The guy simply pulls deftly out of his parking space and drives away.
As Hechinger points out, the victim here is fortunate to have been accused in a jurisdiction whose public defender’s office has some investigatory resources — many, it seems, do not. And without the video, this guy didn’t stand a chance, obviously. Hechinger again:
Mr. Barbosa knew the reality then: Police can generally say whatever they want. And they know that generally, no matter what, prosecutors, judges, & in the rare case that makes it that far, juries, will believe them over the accused. He was in a serious predicament.
Though it’s no great mystery why the cop thought he would get away with it, it is unclear why on earth he would make up the story in the first place. What benefit could he have derived from it? The victim says the officer and his buddies had been “harassing him for months” and maybe so and this was just a further stage of a personal vendetta. Perhaps, like Orson Welles’s Police Captain Hank Quinlan, he believed knew the guy was guilty, of something, and didn’t much mind breaking the rules to get him if that’s what it took.
Or it could just have been recreational mayhem, which seems to be shockingly common. Sometimes they just want to mess with people, and as they rarely face consequences for such malfeasance, there’s little disincentive. And a little disincentive might have gone a long way here, for even though the charges were dropped in the end, the guy still had to spend six months on Rikers Island, for no reason whatsoever. Meanwhile, the officer (i.e., the real criminal) goes free. It’s no surprise, but it doesn’t seem right, does it?
This reminds me of a case I noted a few years back, another in which an NYPD officer claimed a citizen had tried to run him over while pulling into his own driveway. Unfortunately for the cop, there was video showing the car slowly pulling up while the officer and his buddies just stood around placidly.
I noted it at the time as a rare case of actual legal consequences for false claims against a citizen “under color of authority.”
In fact, though, the consequences were so trivial as to be non-existent, and as the plea deal downgraded the charge to a misdemeanor the perpetrator was left free to work as a police officer in other jurisdictions (which I assume must have happened — careful out there.)
At least the charge in the present case remained a felony, though also without real penalty: this guy won’t be able to terrorize anybody else, at least as a police officer, in future.
But it’s crazy to me that it’s even a possibility that a cop who admits to lying on a police report or in court (for any reason, but particularly as a fraudulent attack on an innocent citizen) should be permitted to do that job ever again. Ever. In any capacity. But that’s the system we’ve got. Vast power, institutional deference, no deterrence.
In both cases, it’s the “buddies” I wonder about most of all, the partner of the cop in the video in the present case, and the officers calmly standing around the driveway while the other non event failed to transpire. They’re all lying too, colluding with an admitted crime. None of them should have their jobs, or ever be placed in a position of public trust again. But as far as I know (and I’ve looked into it) this step is never taken. Prosecution aside, it seems to me a policy of summary, permanent dismissal for lying on a police report would be indisputably reasonable and would vastly reduce the occurrence of this egregious behavior. I can only conclude that, on some broad, deep, societal level, we actually don’t want the behavior deterred.
Of course, as the Hechinger thread points out, this is unlikely to be the first and only time the officer in question had lied on a police report in his six-year career as an NYPD cop. The sensible thing to do would be to re-investigate all of his previous cases and free his victims where appropriate. That’s another thing that just never ever happens, and similarly, I suppose, as a society, it’s something we just don’t want to know about or address— innocent people in prison I mean.
Finally, another sensible thing might be to look into cases of people charged and convicted in New York with trying to run officers over. Probably some innocents in there too, as falsely accusing people of this seems to be something of a NYPD tradition. Of course, we won’t do that either.