A Brooklyn cyclist who was said he was shoved into a parked car by an NYPD detective in 2014 has been awarded a $2.25 million settlement, after a court ruled against the city for repeatedly failing to produce relevant evidence in a timely manner.
Charles Puccio, 62, was riding his bike in Canarsie, Brooklyn in 2014, when Detective Noel Lawrence appeared to push him, as revealed in video footage later released of the incident. The contact caused Puccio to swerve and "slingshot about 10 feet over a parked car," his lawyers said. He suffered permanent injuries to his neck, back and left knee, which required three surgeries, according to attorneys.
Lawrence, who was undercover at the time of the incident, reportedly denied under oath that he made any physical contact with the cyclist. A public school camera captured video evidence that appeared to show otherwise, but that footage was not provided by the city until nearly four years after litigation began.
"That started a trend of bad faith efforts to turn over discovery that was, in a legal sense, discoverable," attorney Sameer Chopra, who represented the cyclist during the bench trial, told Gothamist. "They were trying to frustrate the process."
As part of their defense, Chopra said, city attorneys attempted to paint Puccio as a drug dealer "because he was a white guy riding his bike through the projects." The detective also claimed that he had the right to stop Puccio because he was briefly riding on the sidewalk. There is no bike lane in the area—East 102nd Street near Seaview Avenue—and video footage shows that Puccio swerved onto the road shoulder to get around Lawrence's unmarked police vehicle.
Allegations that the city was withholding evidence became an issue once again when the trial finally began this past November. According to Chopra, attorneys were not given the internal investigatory file on the incident until day three of the bench trial, by which point the detective had already been placed on the stand. Typically, such information would be provided to attorneys prior to the start of the trial.
"It's extremely fishy that something shows up three days into a trial when we've been asking for it for four-and-a-half years," said Chopra. "Clearly that's something the judge would not tolerate."
A spokesperson for the New York City Law Department attributed the delay to difficulty in locating the police file. "As a result of confusion over the existence of an NYPD internal investigation into the incident, documents concerning the investigation were not produced in a timely fashion and the Court struck the City’s answer, effectively resulting in a liability finding against the City," Nick Paolucci, Director of Public Affairs at the law department, said in a statement to Gothamist. "Since damages remained the only issue subject to litigation, this resolution of the case was in the best interests of the City."
A spokesperson for the NYPD refused to provide an additional comment, directing us to the law department's response.
Puccio, who had originally sued for $5 million, was "extremely happy" with the verdict, according to his attorney. "This was a life-changing event for him and his family," said Chopra. "He feels justice was served."