In yet another instance of the NYPD abusing its power, native New Yorker Ryan Stepka (pictured), 39, recently back from a bike trip across the continent, was riding along Bleecker Street in the West Village on Saturday night, approaching Sixth Avenue, when a black Volkswagen GTI being driven by Joe Carrasco, 29, an off-duty police officer from the 28th Precinct, moved into the bike lane to make a left turn, almost hitting him. He told us what happened next during a telephone interview yesterday evening.
I’m biking alongside him on Bleecker Street at Father Demo Square, and he was veering into me making a left onto Sixth Avenue without any indicator, so to identify myself I banged on his window. And when I kept going and got in front of him he kind of pulled into me, so I stopped and got off my bike and he pulled up again, not hitting me but just getting close, so I got onto the sidewalk. There was no malice intended. I stopped and got off my bike as the guy was nudging into me. And supposedly he’s claiming now that he was parking. I went over to his window to have a civil conversation like, “dude, I apologize for hitting your window, but I didn’t want you to run me over.” I’m just standing there, the window rolls down and there’s a gun pointed at me.
And I just froze, the window rolled up and he took off. And I’m screaming “Call 911, this guy just pulled a gun on me, call 911,” and there’s a bunch of people on the street bugging out, including the guy standing next to me who might’ve seen the gun, I don’t know.
I didn’t catch his plate right away so I started after him, but I wasn’t worried about him shooting me through his back window if I chased him up Sixth Avenue. He knew I could see him but he lost me. I went straight up Sixth ‘till I got to Greenwich and then I made a left because I was on the phone with the 911 operator—I’d love to hear the phone call—but he was like: “Listen, you gotta talk to the police, you’ve gotta go back to where it happened.”
So I made a left down Christopher and headed back down Christopher, and obviously this guy had made a left on Waverly so I caught back up to him. That’s when I saw some other officers who were on another call and yelled out to them to stop the guy. He must have seen me and heard me yelling. There were two squad cars with officers on both side of the street, and as I was screaming he kind of pulled up to the curb and that’s when all the officers surrounded his vehicle with their guns drawn. Then he rolled down his window, likely showed them his badge, and they put their guns away.
But I’m still screaming like a lunatic, “Get that guy out of the car, that guy put a gun in my face!” So the next thing you know the cops tell me he doesn’t have a gun and that they searched him, but he never got out of the car. I only found this out later that off-duty cops always have to carry their guns. It ends up that one of the cops got into the vehicle with the guy, and him and that guy drove back to the precinct in that car. And I went to the precinct, called a friend of mine, my attorney, to come meet me ‘cause I didn’t want to walk in there with these guys alone.
Were things any better once you got to the precinct?
When I first got there, there was some interesting body language and looks at me, and I told them I had my attorney coming, and then it turns out their captain had called Internal Affairs and the mood changed quite a bit. My friend shows up, the attorney; and while they’re stalling—I had called 911 at 11:19pm but it was hours later before they interviewed me—the dude’s girlfriend rolls up, of course, she’s an officer. And then the dude’s brother shows up and he’s a fucking state trooper; and then the guy’s captain from his department shows up. Why are all these people showing up if he didn’t do anything? And the look of death on his face when I saw him, as they were moving him from one room of the precinct to the other, he looked fucked up and he looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Has anyone who’s read your story come forward or offered to help?
In the media, in the stories about it online on Gothamist, the Post and the Daily News, there are some interesting comments out there like “fuck this yuppie,” “the guy should have got his face blown off,” and I’m wondering who’s writing this, is it all cops? The comments are hysterical. Most people are like: “Good, fuck this guy.” They think I’m standing there banging on this guy’s black tinted window, waiting for him to do something. There’s no empathy. Even at the police station I’m the one who feels like a criminal. You know, how do you tell a cop how to do his job? It’s such an abuse of power.
Have you continued to ride your bike?
What am I supposed to do, stop living? Hopefully the biking in this city will change soon. I’ve been all over the country this summer and up in Canada in Vancouver and the Yukon, and biking everyplace else seems pretty cool. And Portland’s bike laws are super-progressive, and the beauty there is everyone obeys them, there’s mutual respect. But in this city we’re at this point in time where it feels like crime and justice are coming to a head and that head’s going to pop soon. Sure, these bike lanes aren’t designed perfectly, but it’s a step in the right direction, even though you’ve got cops and cabs parking in them and driving in them. This is just one in a million stories, but a cop should not stick a gun in a civilian’s face.
I have long hair and a beard right now cause I just spent the whole summer cycling across North America. I was up in Alaska and the Yukon and then my bike got stolen a couple weeks ago at Burning Man and that kind of ended my trip. Then I get back to New York and I have a fucking gun put in my face. And the comments on the web are so funny, like: “Go back to Alabama.” I grew up here in New York City, fool. Or, “what idiot would chase a guy with a gun?” You know what? An idiot who was just biking through the Yukon by himself with bears all around him. An idiot that wants justice. If they turn this story around and this guy walks, it’s unfair. So unfair.
(photo: New York Daily News)