A police detective who fabricated a fake assault and lied under oath in order to imprison an innocent man has been spared jail time.
Former NYPD officer Michael Bergmann, 34, filed a criminal complaint claiming that a burglary suspect – whose car he had reportedly been pulling over for months in order to find grounds for his arrest – had tried to run him over in such a manner that the offending vehicle left skid marks on the ground.
“The defendant locked eyes with me, turned the car into reverse, floored the vehicle into reverse approximately seven feet,” Bergmann told the grand jury in a trial over the alleged attack.
“As I’m still yelling, the defendant put it in drive, turned the vehicle towards me to the point where I was in between his headlights, and if I didn’t jump out of the way, I would have been under his vehicle.”
Bergmann also claimed he sustained injuries to his elbow while diving out of the way. But surveillance footage unearthed by the defendant’s lawyers showed none of those stated claims to be true.
The defendant, 44-year-old Pedro Barbosa, is reportedly seeking help with a drug problem that led to him falling behind on child support payments and had sometimes resorted to stealing change from apartment buildings’ laundry rooms, but had never been accused of violence, according to the Washington Post.
A suspended sentence for drug possession meant Bergmann could pull over Mr Barbosa whenever he saw him driving.
“They would follow me wherever I went. They’d tell me, ‘We’re going to get you off the streets,” he told The Post. “If they found anything in my car, even a screwdriver, they’d arrest me for possessing burglary tools.”
As a result of Bergmann’s claims, Mr Barbosa was charged with attempted first-degree assault of a police officer and various other offences, and faced a maximum jail sentence of 15 years, and a minimum of three and a half years.
But while he was remanded in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison, Mr Barbosa’s public defender’s office in Brooklyn discovered footage of the incident.
It clearly shows an unmarked police car stopping alongside Mr Barbosa’s parked car. Appearing to recognise Bergmann as he steps out of the car, Mr Barbosa hastily drives off, neither reversing nor taking aim at the detective.
The charges were dropped and, in November, Bergmann pleaded guilty to perjury, making a false statement and official misconduct. Prosecutors asked for Bergmann to receive jail time of one year.
The district attorney’s office expected Judge Danny Chun to sentence him to six months in prison, according the New York Daily News.
But on Wednesday, Mr Chun ruled that jail time was unnecessary, sentencing Bergmann to one day in prison, which he had already served. He will spend four years on probation.
“Considering the crime that the defendant committed, I do find a six month incarceration ... would be unduly harsh,” Mr Chun said.
Bergmann has been fired from the NYPD, but is reportedly looking for work as a firearms inspector.
“Michael Bergmann did one of the worst things a human being could ever do to another: give false testimony that would put them in jail wrongfully,” said Mr Barbosa’s public defender, Scott Hechinger.”He did so brazenly and maliciously. He lied in sworn testimony before a grand jury.
While Mr Hechinger describes the judge’s decision to undercut the prosecution’s recommended sentencing as a “rare step”, he revealed it is not the first time Mr Chun has spared convicted police officers jail time in favour of probation.
One such case involved two NYPD officers convicted for having sex with a teenager in custody in exchange for her freedom, with the New York Post reporting Mr Chun questioned the victim’s “credibility” and said that “both sides” had been guilty of crimes relating to the “bribe”.
In another instance, he allowed a former NYPD officer who twice shot a man in the face and then tampered with the evidence to walk free.
“Police lie because they know they’ll rarely if ever be held to account,” Mr Hechinger said. “It is a good thing Bergmann was fired and prosecuted. But probation? I just hope that this punishment sends the necessary message of zero tolerance to all on the force. I fear it won’t.
“Police lying is an epidemic not just in the NYPD, but in police forces around the country.”