Newly released surveillance footage showing a New York City police car mowing down a dirt bike, leaving a 20-year-old man dead and his 17-year-old male passenger paralyzed with brain damage, proved witnesses were correct when they accused the NYPD of lying.
Now the family of the teen is suing the New York City Police Department.
The incident took place in October 2012 but the video is just now surfacing, disproving the NYPD tale that police were not pursuing the occupants on the dirt bike, but that it tried to “overtake” the police vehicle before it lost control, swerving in front of the patrol car, which was when the cops struck the bike, killing Ronald Herrera and leaving Leonel Cuevas paralyzed.
But even back then, witnesses contradicted the official police report, according to a New York Daily News article published December 10, 2012.
“They hit the dirt bike from behind, the bike twisted and Leonel flew off,” an 18-year-old witness, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily News in 2012. “It (the bike) went down and Ronald was still holding on, it started throwing sparks. The police car completely ran over him. They really didn’t have to crash him off the bike.”
Officer Sabrina Alicea, the driver of the vehicle, and her partner Walkiria Velez, remained on duty despite New York Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) receiving this video in 2012.
The only discipline the two officers received was over minor policy violations; failing to notify the radio dispatcher about the chase and documenting it in their memo books. They received minor slaps on the wrist, even though the NYPD Patrol Guide prohibits “ramming” in an attempt to stop a vehicle.
According to the New York Daily News, which broke the story about the video this week:
“They were chasing a guy for a traffic infraction, not a felony, and the video clearly depicts the officers were violating the patrol guide by conducting an unsafe pursuit,” Scott Rynecki, who is representing Herrera’s family stated.
Despite the clear violation and outright lies, an internal affairs sergeant named Robert Fitzsimmons maintains that the officers did not commit a “severe violation.”
“I believe it was a safe pursuit, I believe it was a culpability of the dirt bike rider and also the double-parked vehicles.” Fitzsimmons stated while blaming the victim.
On Tuesday, the family of Cuevas asked the Bronx district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into the incident after releasing the footage to the media.
Cuevas was also the cousin of Reynaldo Cuevas, an unarmed man who was shot to death a month earlier by an NYPD officer in the Bronx, who mistook him for a robber.
Two months prior to the Herrera’s death, the NYPD was involved in a very similar incident also in the Bronx. The department paid out $250,000 to Adalberto Gonzalez, 28, who was injured after a police vehicle rammed into the dirt bike he was riding, killing his passenger and best friend, 28-year-old Eddie Fernandez.
The officers involved were also cleared of any wrong-doing with taxpayers left to foot the bill.