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Bikers attack Lien's SUV prior to dragging him out and beating him.

Bikers attack Lien’s SUV prior to dragging him out and beating him.

Most readers, I’m sure, are aware of the recent attack on a family in their SUV by a pack of motorcycling thugs in New York.  Some in the media are complicit, with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, in painting the bikers as victims, and not entirely because one of their number was run over and seriously injured when the SUV driver ran over him in a desperate bid to escape the gang to protect his family.  But there has been a recent, unexpected, and particularly disturbing, development.  As is often the case, the British press is doing the reporting American outlets are not willing or able to do.  The Daily Mail has the story:  

At least five off-duty New York Police Department officers have admitted being present at the savage revenge beating last weekend on the Henry Hudson Parkway, according to reports.

Among the off duty cops were at least two detectives and three other officers, all who witnessed the attack and did little to stop it. One of the detectives, an undercover narcotics officer, watched as the violence broke out and chose not to break it up for fear of ruining his cover.

The five officers were not the only ones present, WABC is reporting that the NYPD is investigating whether several off-duty corrections officers were also there. Police who saw the violent attack did not begin coming forward until Wednesday – four days later.

The basic facts of the case are relatively simple.  The bikers essentially surrounded the SUV while all were driving on a three lane highway.  One of the bikers purposely maneuvered in front of the SUV, suddenly slowed, and was struck and knocked to the ground by the SUV.  The SUV and bikers came to a stop, and hostilities escalated.  The driver–Alexian Lien–who was with his wife and infant child, sped off, striking several motorcycles that were blocking his vehicle, and running over one biker.  The bikers gave chase, and when the SUV became stuck in traffic and stopped, slashed the tires of the vehicle, smashed the driver, passenger and rear windows, drug Lien out of the vehicle and savagely beat him.  Interestingly, one of the bikers was actually filming the incident with a video camera, but he claims his battery died at the exact moment the beating of Lien began.  I watched his attorney making that claim in a TV interview.  My impression (for what it’s worth; I have no conclusive evidence either way): He’s lying.  That video is available here. 

Biker suddenly braking in front of Lien's vehicle.

Biker suddenly braking in front of Lien’s vehicle.

The bikers, from nearly the beginning, have tried to paint themselves as innocent victims:

One of the bikers who spoke to investigators said that Mr Lien ‘drove erratically and bumped the bike on the side,’ adding ‘when he bumped that bike on the side, that bike became aggressive because his life was in danger,’ according to WABC.

He was not the only one to do so, as longtime partner of Edwin Mieses Jr, the man who was run over by the car, has hired famed defender Gloria Allred.

‘He is the best father I know,’ Dayana Mejia said at a Friday press conference.

‘To learn that he almost died and that he may not walk again- that is all still sinking in.

‘It tears me up that anyone could think that Edwin in anyway deserves what happened to him.’

Mieses, who is from Lawrence, Massachusetts, suffered a broken spine, fractured ribs, a punctured lung and a torn aortic valve, said his attorney, Allred.

His injuries may have left him paralyzed.

Lien’s [The SUV driver] wife, Rosalyn Ng, has said that her family’s sympathies go out to Mieses, but that they had to flee a dangerous situation.

She said her husband was trying to protect her and their 2-year-old child, who was also in the car at the time.

Ms. Allred and Ms. Mejia is doing her best to depict Mieses and the rest of the pack of bikers as model citizens:

He told everyone to move on and go back to riding, and turned his back to the SUV to start walking back to his own bike,’ Allred said.

‘It was then, with his back to the SUV, and as he was in front of it, that he was run over and crushed.’

Mejia said a difficult situation has been made worse by what she described as a ‘perception’ that some people have about the riders who participated in the rally on Sunday.

‘They are not gang members. They are not thugs,’ Mejia said.

‘They are FedEx drivers, plumbers, military reservists, musicians. They are fathers and brothers and sons, and sisters and mothers.’

She also said Mieses didn’t know any of the people he was riding with on Sunday aside from one friend who traveled to New York with him.

However, the Daily Mail has taken the time to do a bit of, well, journalism:

Mieses was recently arrested in Andover, Mass., for driving with a revoked license. He also never applied for a motorcycle license.

Records show that in June he was named a habitual offender and his right to drive in the state was revoked until 2017. It wasn’t clear if he had been licensed in any other state.

Analysis:

The Trayvon Martin case has helped to spark interest in self-defense issues, perhaps one of the very few positive effects of that travesty.  This New York case is, in many ways, a classic case of self defense with several elements that are less unique than many might imagine.

First, however, let’s explore the role of the police officers.  The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has not been getting a great deal of good press lately, as my recent article “New York City Police Shoot Up The citizenry Again,” which explored an incident where several officers fired at a potentially dangerous person, but missed and shot two innocent women instead, illustrates.

Generally speaking, police officers are police officers 24/7/365.  Even when off-duty, officers know they bear responsibilities far beyond those of the average citizen, in the same way that they may face additional danger by virtue of their office.  Virtually every off-duty police officer tries to avoid having to take police action—if they’re smart. In fact, most law enforcement agencies have internal rules about this. They don’t enforce traffic laws, and they ignore most misdemeanors, merely calling for on-duty help if the situation is serious enough.  But they are expected to act when life or limb are at risk.

In those situations, keep in mind that the police have no obligation to protect any individual (see this article, and visit this link for the relevant Supreme Court case, Castlerock v. Gonzales).  They can, if they wish, simply ignore citizens being brutally beaten, even killed, as I noted in another recent article about New York cops doing just that.  They may not be successfully sued, but in most states, police officers are obligated by law not to be negligent in the discharge of their duties, and may be punished in a variety of ways, including being prosecuted, having their certification as police officers suspended or revoked, or suffering suspension or other punishment under the rules of their agency.  For honest cops, the worst punishment might well be branding as a coward.  Cops depend on each other for their very lives, and honorable officers work very hard to be worthy of the trust that implies.

In fact, CBS News reports even greater reason to be suspicious of the role played by the officers:  

An NYPD undercover detective has now been arrested in connection with an attack on a family in an SUV by a group of motorcyclists, reports CBS News’ John Miller.

The officer is expected to be charged with criminal mischief for allegedly banging on and breaking the rear window of the SUV. The detective waited four days before coming forward to the NYPD and he allegedly made false statements about his involvement, reports Miller.

So beyond potential cowardice, it now seems that at least this officer was actually one of the violent thugs attacking Lien.

In the Bikers v SUV case, crowd psychology plays a substantial role.  This is a topic police officers carefully study because they are often greatly outnumbered.  The police know that it is only the willingness of most people to obey most laws most of the time, and to defer to the police, that keeps civilized society viable and police officers alive.

The bottom line: people will do things in crowds they would never think of doing by themselves.  There is indeed strength, and perversion, in numbers.  Crowds offer anonymity, cover for evil words and deeds.  The energy of a rampaging crowd feeds baser human instincts and lowers inhibitions.  The more sociopathic members of a crowd will often inspire and use this energy, delighting in the carnage, taking perverse pleasure in manipulating others into harming themselves and others.  Some actively seek this ugly dynamic, while others will unconsciously fall into group-think and destructive action.

The basics of self defense are clear: one may use deadly force in defense of self or others when there is an imminent threat of seriously bodily injury or death.  Lesser threats obviously require lesser responses, proportionate to the danger a reasonable person would perceive.

Keep in mind I do not have the investigative file in this case.  There is much I don’t know, and any analysis applying solely to this case is thereby hampered.  However, I believe I’ve found sufficient information to be able to render at least a tentative analysis that might be reasonably helpful.

It is also worthwhile to keep in mind several other facts.  In this case, the SUV driver was armed, with his SUV, which if used offensively can surely be considered a deadly weapon.  Simultaneously, the SUV was the only protection and refuge the driver, his wife and two year-old child had in this situation.  By the same token, the bikers were armed as well, with their motorcycles, which have the mass, acceleration and velocity to seriously injure or kill, and were in fact armored by virtue of wearing helmets and clothing designed to provide them some protection in case of a crash, or falling to the pavement.  This does not, of course, render them invincible and liable to be assaulted, but should be a factor in any use of force analysis.

The Confrontation:

Normally, whoever initiates a confrontation paints them self, practically and legally, as the aggressor.  In this case, it appears that the bikers somehow took offense at the driver and quickly began not only to yell and gesture at him, but to–while all were at speed–beat on his vehicle and surround him.  The biker-made video reveals this clearly.  Any reasonable person with a wife and infant in his vehicle so beset, would be justified in fearing for the safety of himself and his family.  He does not know these people, he has done nothing to attract their anger, and he had no intention of responding in kind.  He demonstrated this by continuing to drive, apparently at the speed limit or below, and took no hostile actions toward the bikers.

One of the bikers and his attorney are now claiming that someone thought someone in the SUV threw a water bottle out its sunroof.  This is highly unlikely.  Why would a young couple with a two year-old try to antagonize a large group of bikers?

Apparently shortly after the beginning of the attack, a biker decided to try to force the driver to stop.  Even several of the bikers admitted they were doing this to multiple vehicles, supposedly to allow other bikes to pass safely.  This too is nonsense as they were traveling on a three-lane highway.  There would be no reason to force vehicles to slow to enable safe passing, and the biker video demonstrates that there was no reason to force this SUV to slow.  He was traveling in the center of three lanes, leaving the other two lanes open for passing motorcycles.

Using a motorcycle to try to force a SUV to stop,  considering the difference in stability and mass between the vehicles, is extraordinarily stupid.  In any case, the biker pulled in front of the SUV, slowed to within only about 5 feet of the SUV’s bumper, and unexpectedly braked.  Lien could not stop in time, hit the biker’s rear wheel, knocking the bike and its rider to the ground.

Some have suggested that Lien should have seen the biker stopping and stopped without hitting him.  The biker video reveals that the biker–on purpose–was far too close to the front of the SUV, and because his taillights were substantially below the level of the hood of the SUV, Lien almost certainly could not see his brake light.  In addition, the motorcyclist braked first, and with a far lighter vehicle could stop much faster than the SUV, which had neither the warning, the time, or the space necessary to avoid hitting the motorcycle.

I’ve seen one of the bikers on television claiming that all they wanted was the driver to stop, get out of his vehicle, and apologize for something or other and all would have been forgiven.  There appears to have been nothing to forgive, and anyone in this situation could reasonably believe that leaving the weak safety of the SUV would result in a mass attack, not only on himself, but on his family.  Given what was happening, how could any rational person think otherwise?

It appears that after the bike went down, Lien did stop, and was immediately beset by bikers on foot and on their bikes.  They not only parked multiple bikes in front of his vehicle to hem him in, they continued to yell, threaten, beat on his vehicle, and try to get into it.  It was apparently near this point in the confrontation that the driver tried to flee, running over Mieses and one or more bikes.  The biker video shows the SUV fleeing at high speed, and gaining a lead of at least ¼ mile before one biker accelerated after him, followed immediately by the pack.

At this point, the driver again demonstrated his intention to avoid confrontation, by fleeing as quickly as he could.  The bikers demonstrated their intentions by continuing the confrontation by pursuing as a pack.  If they wanted merely to keep the SUV in sight, or obtain a license plate number (they surely had more than sufficient time for this earlier), all they needed to do was send a single rider who could have kept his distance.  They chose otherwise.

Bikers kick Lien in the head.

Bikers kick Lien in the head.

When Lien was eventually hemmed in by traffic his tires slashed, and forced to stop, the bikers smashed out his window with a helmet, drug him from the vehicle, and savagely beat him.  They also smashed out the rear window of the SUV, and smashed the passenger’s window as well, but did not displace it.

Apparently the five or more police officers did nothing at all to prevent the attack, or once it began, to stop it.  There may be a reasonable excuse for this behavior, but I strain to imagine what it might be.  We know about the undercover officer’s criminal behavior.  As for the others, were they identifying as bikers rather than police officers?  Were they somehow physically unable to respond?  Were they cowards?  Did they just not want to get involved?  In any event, I certainly would not want to have to depend upon such people for my safety.

In this case, the bikers had multiple opportunities to break off their attacks and pursuits, and to call the police.  They did not.  They were clearly the aggressors, and by virtue of their numbers, their sustained and vicious attacks, and their unrelenting aggression, would have indicated to any reasonable person that their life–and the lives of their family–was in danger.

Throughout the incident, Lien apparently did nothing but try to avoid confrontation, fleeing whenever he could.  He demonstrated no willingness to engage in battle and appeared to be concerned only with protecting his family.  Despite having a far more massive vehicle, a vehicle he could have used as a battering ram to destroy the motorcycles and seriously injure or kill their riders, any damage he inflicted was only as a result of his attempts to flee.  Because of its very nature, his vehicle was far less fast and maneuverable than the motorcycles.  The success of any of Lien’s attempts to flee would be determined not by Lien, but by the far faster, far more rapidly accelerating and maneuverable motorcyclists.

I have not seen any reliable information indicating that Lien or his wife tried to call the police during the incident.  If this is so, they may not have had a cell phone, or his wife–the only person likely able to make a call–may well have been far too terrorized to call, or focused exclusively on protecting her infant child, which is what one would reasonably expect of any mother.

UPDATE: 10-09-13, 2020 CST:  According to ABC, apparently Lien’s wife did make four separate calls during the incident.  Thanks to reader Kevin for the heads up!

Final Thoughts:

In this case, it would appear that the police are handling the aftermath properly.  There is no indication of charges against the driver, and as he apparently did nothing but try to flee, this is entirely proper.  It also appears proper that the police are working to charge everyone involved in the attack with all applicable crimes.

I’ve seen some of the bikers and their representatives whine that not all bikers are criminals.  No rational person thinks that, particularly not in this situation, nor does that have any bearing on charges in this case.  In the public relations campaign that attempts to paint these motorcycling thugs as innocent victims just out for a life-affirming ride, it means much.

Business-suited New Yorker intervenes to protect Lien.

Business-suited New Yorker intervenes to protect Lien.

There is no doubt that not every motorcyclist was criminally culpable.  Not all of them participated in attacking Lien or his vehicle.  But what are we to think of the motorcyclists who did nothing but cause greater terror to Lien and his wife by remaining part of the pack and doing nothing to stop the assault?   Is this how motorcyclists wish to be portrayed, as unwilling to stop criminal brutality by people simply because they too happen to ride motorcycles?  Even a suit-wearing New Yorker stepped in to try to stop the thugs as they kicked Lien in the head as he lay, face down and helpless, on the street.

The driver and his wife have made clear that they are sorry for any injuries to any motorcyclist, and considering their actions, one can reasonably believe in their sincerity.  The same is not true, however, for the bikers.  At least some of them have reportedly already filed lawsuits against Lien.

This is apparently motorcyclist for “I’m sorry.”