NYPD Officer Arrested In Motorcycle Road Rage Case

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An undercover NYPD officer was arraigned Wednesday in connection with a road rage incident that's been viewed thousands of times on YouTube. Det. Wojciech Braszczok is one of several motorcycle riders who've been arrested for their roles in an attack on Alexian Lien, an SUV driver who led bikers on a high-speed chase last month and that ended in his beating.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

A strange twist now on a story out of New York City. Late last month, a large group of motorcyclists chased an SUV up the West Side of Manhattan. When the vehicle finally stopped, several bikers smashed its windows with their helmets. Then they pulled the driver out, and they beat him in broad daylight.

Well, it now appears that one of the bikers involved was an undercover NYPD detective. According to several news accounts, he was off-duty. The officer was arraigned today on three counts, including gang assault and criminal mischief. And joining us now to talk about this case is NPR's Joel Rose. And, Joel, what can you tell us first about the officer?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, his name is Wojciech Braszczok. He's a 10-year veteran of the force who was off-duty when the incident happened, as you said. He surrendered to police and was arrested last night. At first, Braszczok told police that he was riding with the motorcyclists but that he did not take part in the attack. But police reportedly found that story suspicious, in part because it took Braszczok several days to come forward and actually say that he was present at the scene of the crime. Now, prosecutors say they have a video recording that shows Braszczock was not only present but was, quote, "an active participant" in the attack.

SIEGEL: What do they say about his role in the attack? What exactly are they accusing him of doing?

ROSE: Well, prosecutors say that he participated not only in chasing down the SUV but that when it stopped, he actively engaged in smashing the rear window and also in kicking the passenger side door of the vehicle. He's facing three charges, including gang assault and assault, which are felony charges. Braszczok's lawyer has a very different version of these events. He says Braszczok was at least 12 feet away from the driver of the SUV while he was being beaten and that the rear window of the car was already broken. The lawyer says this is an absolute overcharge and appears set to fight these charges.

SIEGEL: Now, videos of this incident have been all over cable television, news channels and also on the Internet. Remind us how it all began. What happened here?

ROSE: Well, all of these events took place on Sunday, September 29th. Alexian Lien was driving in an SUV with his wife and his 2-year-old daughter when he apparently got into some kind of disagreement with this large group of motorcyclists who are out riding together. The motorcycle group apparently forced Lien to pull over to the side of the road. And there's this video that you've talked about, the chase that's posted on YouTube, and you can see that Lien appears to hit the gas pedal to get away from the motorcyclists.

But in the process, his SUV actually runs over one of the motorcyclists. That - that motorcyclist was seriously injured, and that's when things seem to really escalate into that high-speed chase that you see up the Henry Hudson Parkway and into the streets of Upper Manhattan.

SIEGEL: And there have been other arrests in this case, no?

ROSE: Yeah. Five other motorcyclists have been arrested. They are looking at a range of criminal charges. And the NYPD has circulated photos of several other people that they're trying to locate for questioning. So we could certainly see more arrests as the investigation continues.

SIEGEL: Now, Joel, it's also been reported that another NYPD officer was riding with the motorcycle group. Has the department had anything to say about that?

ROSE: Not much. They've been very tightlipped, at least publicly. Officers are supposed to intervene to stop crimes, even when they're off duty. Things are a little murkier, though, if they are undercover and if they don't want to jeopardize an investigation, for instance, by revealing their real identities. But at this point, it's not clear exactly what - whether that was the case here or not.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: Welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Joel Rose in New York.

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