As is so often said, there are no consequences for cops who commit perjury. And then comes a prosecution and conviction, which would appear to put the lie to the assertion.
A judge has found an NYPD officer guilty of a felony for lying about the arrest of New York Times photographer Robert Stolarik, who was briefly jailed in August of 2012 after photographing a stop and frisk in the Concourse neighborhood of the Bronx.
Earlier today in Bronx Supreme Court, Judge Michael Gross convicted NYPD Officer Michael Ackermann of a single count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a Class E felony. Judge Gross found Ackermann not guilty of other misdemeanor charges related to tampering with public records and falsifying business records.
Is this a paradigm shift? Certainly, Ackermann hoped that a non-jury trial before Judge Gross would achieve a level of “understanding” that was not likely from a Bronx jury. Guess he didn’t get the nod and wink he was expecting. Or maybe Ackermann realized that a judge trial was his only hope, since no Bronx juror ever would buy his defense.
Ackermann had claimed that Stolarik repeatedly discharged his camera’s flash in Ackermann’s face while he was trying to arrest a 15-year-old girl, “blinding him and preventing him from performing his duties.” Ackermann also said that the photographer “violently resisted being handcuffed,” injuring another officer on their hand.
In fact, there was no flashbulb attached to Stolarik’s camera. During the trial, a camera expert testified that Stolarik’s camera wasn’t capable of producing a flash.
There is nothing like physical impossibility to make a point. But then, Stolarik, the victim of Ackermann’s lie, not to mention his having been “dragged, kicked and stomped on,” isn’t just some kid in the hood.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Stolarik said, “I’m overwhelmed, and I’m emotional,” and added that the “DA took this case very seriously. Justice has been served. He was comfortable sending me to prison to ruin my career and I think that turned around on him, he was charged with a felony and it ruined his career.”
Stolarik was a photographer for the New York Times. Yes, that New York Times. How nice that he feels that “justice has been served” by the conviction of the cop who would have ruined his career, but that isn’t always the case. So now that Stolarik got his “justice,” he Gertrudes:
“I have a lot of respect for the police department and members of the police department,” Stolarik told reporters. “I will say that there are a few guys that do what Ackermann did, they lie and give and excuses for their actions and it’s acceptable by their superiors and I guess they feel that it is acceptable.”
Stolarik was the victim of a cop who fabricated his commission of a crime to justify his arrest, not to mention his stomping. He is not, however, an expert on the subject of how many, and how often, cops engage in this conduct. Whether it’s a false police report or testilying, its pervasiveness isn’t a matter for Stolarik’s opinion. Nor does his respect for police mean much to anyone else.
As for Ackermann, having been outed by proof of physical impossibility, he took the path of stupidity.
“I keep going over it and trying to figure out how I could have made that big of a mistake,” said PO Michael Ackermann during his bench trial in Bronx Supreme Court, which ended Wednesday.
This too is a tried and true method for police officers to disavow their actions when they caught red-handed in a lie. A mistake? Sure, a stupid mistake. Hey, to err is human, right? Anybody can make a mistake, like confusing how the very act for which he arrested Stolarik never happened.
Unlike other defendants and witnesses, cops are trained to testify, and enjoy the benefit of experience as a witness. When they’re under cross-examination and get nailed with an inconsistency, they know that the magic way out from under is to shrug and say that they must have made a mistake. Happens all the time, and they know it works. Who doesn’t love an admission of fallibility?
And it has yet to be seen whether Ackermann’s effort to play cute will impact his sentence.
Ackermann could lose his job and spend up to fours years in prison. At trial, he portrayed his account of the events as an honest mixup.
He won’t get four years. That’s the silliness of maximum exposure, and there is nothing here to suggest he should get the max. But will he get any time? He was convicted of a class “E” felony, the lowest grade felony possible in New York. Most first-time defendants charged with an “E” cop a plea to probation. Will Ackermann be allowed to roll the dice at trial without having to pay the trial tax?
It’s good that there was a prosecution at all. It’s good that there was a conviction. But this still bears the stench of the “one bad apple” excuse rather than a paradigm shift of its being unacceptable that cops lie. Rather than reflecting a serious take that perjury by police officers will no longer be tolerated, it emits the unpleasant odor of the exception that proves the rule.