John Hockenjos, 55, is a New York man accused of trying to run over a Brooklyn officer with his car. The officer claimed that Hockenjos tried to run him over — a claim strikingly familiar to past cases that we have discussed. However, on this occasion, the citizen had this night-vision surveillance tape that showed that the officer lied. The felony charges have now been dropped, but there remains the question of the officer. Citizens are routinely charged criminally for making false claims to police. However, officers are rarely fired, let alone charged, in such cases.
The officer was responding to a call from a neighbor who has a dispute with Hockenjos over a two-foot spread of grass along the driveway. The officer claimed that Hockenjos, 55, entered his driveway at a high rate of speed and that he had to jump out of the way to save his own life. However, the tape shows Hockenjos moving slowly up the driveway stopping well short of the police officer. There is no meaningful movement by the officer and certainly not any jump for his life.
Hockenjos has a clean record, but (based on the officer’s account) spent three days in jail on the felony charge. Notably, however, they did not drop the disorderly conduct charge against his 51-year-old wife, Irena.
The contrast to how these cases are handled is striking. Citizens are charged with false claims while officers appear effectively immune from such charges. This includes New York cases, such as the recent case against a WABC meteorologist. The rare cases that do see charges generally involve civil rights allegations, as here.
The New York criminal code contains the following:
Falsely reporting an incident in the first degree (N.Y. PENAL LAW § 240.60) –No less than 3, nor more than 7 years’ imprisonment; No more than $5,000 fine.
Falsely reporting an incident in the second degree (N.Y. PENAL LAW § 240.55) — No less than 3, nor more than 4 years’ imprisonment; No more than $5,000 fine.
Falsely reporting an incident in the third degree (N.Y. PENAL LAW § 240.50)– No more than 1 year imprisonment; No more than $1,000 fine
“Reporting” is likely to be viewed as an act of a citizen and police officers can claim a generous level of discretion. Yet, this is a case where the officer clearly knew he was lying and bringing a baseless charge.
We have seen a number of cases where citizens are charged with assault for the slightest contact with officers even an air kiss. Previously, we saw how a hug was charged as a felony. We have also seen an officer claim battery when a bubble touched him. Then there is the officer who charged battery when a suspect released gas in his presence. These all pale in comparison to being hit by a flying pillow, of course.
In the absence of a video, such charges generally are difficult for citizens to rebut — another example of why citizens should be able to videotape officers in public.