There’s nothing unusual about a defendant being on trial for his first arrest. What is unusual is when that he’s the person who made the arrest, and it was his first as a police officer. The trial of Patrick Pogan for his assault on bicyclist Christopher Long during the Critical Mass rally in Manhattan has opened, which I like to call the “Big Shove.”
As it turns out, Pogan, who has since resigned from the force, was a mere baby cop when he become a video star of the internet. According to his lawyer, Stuart London, Pogan was just following orders.
But Mr. London said during his opening statement that Mr. Pogan, who had been on the force for just 11 days when the confrontation happened, was naïve and simply following the orders of his superiors. At a briefing earlier that evening, a captain told Mr. Pogan and other young officers that they needed to issue summonses, Mr. London said.
“How do we stop them?” an officer asked, according to Mr. London.
“Do what you have to do to get them off their bikes,” the captain responded, according to Mr. London.
So Pogan ran over to Long and slammed him off his bike as Long tried to pass. A bit literal, but it did serve to get Long off the bike. Still, this fails to explain why Pogan decided that Long would be the person to be debiked. London explains that too in his opening.
Mr. Pogan’s lawyer vigorously attacked Mr. Long, 31, as a reckless, pot-smoking miscreant who was the provocateur that night.
“Christopher Long is a bike rider that conned Pogan in this whole situation,” Stuart London, Mr. Pogan’s lawyer, said in his opening statement. “Christopher Long is a bike rider who knew exactly what he was doing.”
So it was the crafty criminal mastermind, bicyclist Long, who played agent provocateur to naïve rookie Pogan, compelling the officer to run toward Long and body slam him to the ground as part of his scheme as a reckless, pot-smoking miscreant. This wasn’t immediately clear from the video that’s been around since the incident, or apparently a second video taken by a cyclist behind Long.
(Addendum: At the request of readers too lazy to click on the link to see the video, here’s a reprise)
Now that London cleared that up, what of the criminal complaint filed by Pogan alleging that Long attacked him (and it should be noted that police officers, in the heat of performing their stressful work, sometimes confuse who attacked whom. No seriously, it can happen).
The arrest was Mr. Pogan’s first, Mr. London said, and his sergeant was the one who filled out the report. Mr. Pogan merely signed off on it, and was not trying to cover anything up, Mr. London said.
There you have it. Pogan wasn’t being evil, but just didn’t read the complaint when he swore it was truthful. I mean, does anybody serious buy into that whole swearing to tell the truth thing?
There is a monumental schism between the defense of a cop and the defense of anyone else in America. When defending a cop, as London regularly does on behalf of the PBA, you can make outrageous claims and allegations that would be absurd when defending anyone else. This is because people want to believe that the police are here to protect and serve, are really the good guys, would never do what is clearly shown on the video. People struggle to find excuses, no matter how far-fetched, for their wrongdoing. They need to believe.
London’s allegations about Christopher Long are ridiculous. That doesn’t mean that they won’t fly, although this particular case presents one of the longest stretches to reach for a not guilty verdict we’re likely to see. Whether it flies will be told when the verdict is returned.
Until then, it’s worth bearing in mind that had there been no video of the Big Shove, it would have been Christopher Long on trial for assaulting rookie cop Jason Pogan. And the verdict would have likely been a foregone conclusion.