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Concerns that flaws in police investigation may mean truck driver involved never faces charges

After New York City cyclist Mathieu Lefevre was killed last October when he was struck by a crane-truck, a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer said he had ridden through a red light. Three months on, with the NYPD finally disclosing its file on the incident, it turns out that version of events is entirely at odds with what actually happened.

The Village Voice reports that the NYPD made its disclosure of the facts surrounding the case last Friday, in response to a Freedom of Information request made on behalf of the 30-year-old artist’s mother by their lawyer, Steve Vaccaro.

The victim’s family was already upset with the NYPD for apparently leaking information about the incident, which took place at the junction of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street in Brooklyn, to the press.

The detail about the cyclist running a red light had been published on the website Gothamist, together with a statement from an officer saying that the driver involved would probably not even have known that he had struck Lefevre, and that with no charges filed against the driver, the issue appeared to be closed.

Vaccaro’s persistence in getting the police to review its investigation resulted in it producing a CCTV video of the incident, details of which were included in the information disclosed last week under the Freedom of Information request.

Initially, the NYPD had sought to block information relating to the fatality, saying that its investigation was ongoing.

In a statement following receipt of the information released last Friday, the cyclist’s mother, Erika, issued a statement saying that the video showed that her son had not run a red light.

Furthermore, while the NYPD had sought to apportion fault to Lefevre for passing the truck on the right, it was the lorry executing a right turn across his path without signalling that actually led to his death.

He was dragged for 40 feet by the truck, and his bike for a further 130 feet, yet the driver, later identified as one Leonardo Degianni, failed to stop.

The Lefevre family and their lawyer are said by the Village Voice to have hopes that in view of the new information that has come to light, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office may find sufficient grounds to charge Degianni with criminal negligence.

However, treatment of crucial evidence by the NYPD means that may not be possible.

Vaccaro says that a detective told him that blood and traces of paint had been found on the front bumper of the truck, but there is no mention of that in the police file.

"An investigator told me he saw the blood on the bumper that night, starting to run off in the rain," explained Vaccaro. "But they didn't take a picture."

The reason why no picture was taken, according to other paperwork released on Friday, was that the camera police would have used to take the picture was broken.

"We are appalled by this and other plainly unprofessional aspects of the NYPD investigation,” added Erika Lefevre.

“NYPD should take its responsibility to investigate crashes more seriously."

As a number of stories here on road.cc demonstrate, the relationship between New York’s cyclists and its police officers is often an uneasy one, with regular accusations of heavy handedness and even violence on the part of the NYPD.

News of how the investigation into Lefevre’s death has progressed  is unlikely to improve matters.

In a final twist, the Village Voice adds that there were, however, some photographs in the police file – of Vaccaro himself, as well as the victim’s mother.

The lawyer was at a loss to explain why such photographs were on the police file.

"That's not something I've encountered before," he confessed. "It's certainly not routine."

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

13 comments

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velobetty [71 posts] 4 years ago
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Although I know the relationship between NYPD and cyclists is often not a good one, I can't help thinking that there is more to this case than we know. That NYPD seem to have fabricated a version of events, failed to collect evidence and then attempted to cover these facts up does not bode well.

All I can think is that either NYPD is being absolutely negligent or fraudulent in their dealings with this case. Neither situation is a good one.

NYC is a wonderful place, but I'm glad I don't cycle there and have to deal with NYPD!

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 4 years ago
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Seems to me that the treatment of cyclists by police forces, not just in NYC, has many of the hallmarks of racism.

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mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 4 years ago
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cat1commuter wrote:

Seems to me that the treatment of cyclists by police forces, not just in NYC, has many of the hallmarks of racism.

A very emotive term - but if by that you mean the wider issue of prejudice - in it's most literal definition of "pre-judging" - then I would have to agree that most police departments find it easier to empathise with and identify with drivers than cyclist - who they see as somehow "odd"

(footnote - again with American spelling in the spell-checker? trust me "empathise" is fine without a Z)

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Ian Brett Cooper [6 posts] 4 years ago
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It seems that cycling is getting even worse in NYC. It already has one of the most draconian set of anti-cycling laws in the nation, mandating bicycle facility use as well as forcing cyclists to ride far right, and preventing cyclists from exercising the right to choose a safe position in the road - a right every road user should have. Add to this the fact that the police seem to have a prejudice against cyclists, New York cyclists have to overcome a deep seated culture of oppression on the roads and in the justice system.

I have to agree with Cat1commuter that much of the prejudice against cyclists that I've seen and read about on the roads smacks of racism. We seem to be treated as 'road-nig**rs' by people whose attitude would seem to belong on an 18th Century slave plantation, not in a 21st Century metropolis. The difference between cyclists and a recognized minority is that we have no hate crime legislation to appeal to.

And yes, it's an emotive term, but it seems apt.

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thereverent [406 posts] 4 years ago
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The NYPD are hardly cyclist friendly, but this is a new low.  14

Not investigating properly, releasing false information and the photots in the file just seem creepy.

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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So the cops couldn't be arsed to investigate properly, assumed (or pretended?) the cyclist had run a red light and assumed (or pretended?) he was passing a truck on the sui-side when in fact the truck cut him up.

Sounds just like home. I wouldn't be surprised to read a similar story in the London Evening Standard.

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tallsam [3 posts] 4 years ago
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cat1commuter wrote:

Seems to me that the treatment of cyclists by police forces, not just in NYC, has many of the hallmarks of racism.

That would be pretty hard being as cyclists aren't a race.

NYPD may be not too cyclist friendly but claiming they're racist makes us look stupid.

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mrmo [2074 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

NYPD may be not too cyclist friendly but claiming they're racist makes us look stupid.

I don't think anyone is saying this is racism, just that if this was a black man killed by a white man and the investigation was conducted by the police in the manner portrayed then it would be all over the media as a case of police racism.

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WolfieSmith [1323 posts] 4 years ago
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As Mad Scot said the accurate term is prejudice not racist. Cyclists are not a race. We'll be mixing up Chris Hoy and a certain referee next...  2

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Matt_S [253 posts] 4 years ago
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Given the apparent cover-up nature of the NYPD behaviour, it makes you wonder if someone from a crane operating company might have friends in high places.

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OldRidgeback [2620 posts] 4 years ago
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It looks as if the NYPD bungled it, then realised what'd happened and tried to cover it up. It looks like the driver may get away with charges due to police incompetence. I expect it'd cost a fortune to sue the NYPD. It is very sad.

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downfader [203 posts] 4 years ago
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Here's a serious point. There used to be a lot of Mob involvement in the building trade out there in NYC and other big cities. I could well imagine a time when the police were bunged a few thousand quid to "tidy up loose ends" and help a business tick over.

If there's a load of files on the lawyer and the mother that says to me: corruption, on some level at least.

Lets not forget all those videos that appeared on youtube about 2 years ago, showing NYC cops blocking bikelanes with their "cruiser", whilst cops further down the road ticketed cyclists for riding out of it to avoid the car.

(I've just spend 30 minutes searching to find the video but cant find the bl**dy thing. Apologies, its out there in the ether)

And lets not forget this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzE-IMaegzQ

Also, how many cops does it take to ticket one woman cyclist? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLY03eo0uxo

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chieu-anh [1 post] 4 years ago
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Thank you for the attention paid to the Lefevre family and their
struggle. They are accepting donations for their legal fund here:
mathieulefevre.org