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Journalist beaten and arrested by police officers

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Journalist beaten and arrested by police officers

  • Michael Niman and eight other participants in a bicycle rally were arrested during a riot for resisting arrest and are scheduled to appear in court June 25.

June 17, 2003 — A journalist was arrested and charged with assault while participating in a nationwide cyclist event in Buffalo, N.Y. May 30.

Michael Niman, a freelance journalist and Buffalo State College professor of journalism, along with eight other participants of Critical Mass, an event in which cyclists ride together to demonstrate the benefits of bicycle commuting, were accused of illegally blocking traffic and resisting arrest.

The eight were scheduled to appear in Buffalo City Court on June 11, but because stories from both sides varied, District Attorney Frank J. Clark requested more time to gather evidence.

Judge Patrick Carney granted Clark a two-week adjournment.

“I wanted to get a handle on the factual setting of what happened,” Clark said. “We have statements that differ greatly when describing the same event.”

During the two week adjournment, Clark will review the conduct of the police officers involved. Clark said that there is no evidence of excessive force used by the police officers, but added that he has not finished with the review.

Meanwhile, Niman argues that he and the other cyclists did not resist arrest and peacefully complied with the police. But police reports say that cyclists were shouting obscenities, and inciting a riot. Police claim Niman shoved and bit a police officer while the officer attempted to assist another officer.

Niman claims he was just taking photos of police activity.

In a personal statement, Niman said that one cyclist was detained for “jaywalking,” and placed in the back of the police car. Niman also said that Heron Simmonds, a professor of ethics at Canisius College in Buffalo, saw this and asked the officer what was happening. Simmonds was then handcuffed for resisting arrest.

Niman took photos of Simmonds being arrested. While taking photos, Niman said that he identified himself as a journalist to the police officer.

Immediately after he identified himself, Niman said he was attacked and “he or they immediately stuck something in my mouth, slammed my head down on the hood of a patrol car and began beating me on the helmet, neck and shoulders.”

Witnesses and other cyclists took more than 200 photos of officers using excessive force on cyclists who were not resisting arrest, Niman said.

A total of nine individuals were taken to jail. Six were charged with resisting arrest and two were charged with assault — one for inciting a riot. Leslie Lannan, who was on her way to buy pizza, was taken to jail for inciting a riot after she stopped her car and complained to the police who were hitting Niman, The Buffalo News reported.

At the precinct, Niman said that after he was booked, he was stripped and taken to a cell. Five minutes later, a police officer gave Niman a small apron to wear.

Niman was the last of all the bicyclists to be released from jail.

“I think that the incident illustrates an authoritarian mentality,” said Mark Mahoney, Niman’s attorney and lead attorney for the cyclists. Mahoney said that the police felt embarrassed when they realized they had no right to stop the cyclists.

Mahoney said it would be ideal if all charges were dropped but said he was doubtful because “you don’t want to get the police officers upset by dismissing all the arrests — there has to look like there is some consequence to their [cyclists] conduct.”

(People v. Niman; Media counsel: Mark Mahoney; Buffalo, N.Y.) LG

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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