Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

November 25, 2003 Tuesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 496 words


BYLINE: MATT GRYTA; News Staff Reporter

Two people were convicted and three were cleared of charges Monday in the Elmwood Avenue confrontation between bicycle rights activists from the group Critical Mass and Buffalo police last May 30.

Michael I. Niman, 45, a journalist and Buffalo State College communications professor, and Craig J. Fredenthal, 23, a stagehand, were convicted of noncriminal violations and fined $95.

Heron Simmonds, 33, a Canisius College ethics professor whose arrest sparked the violence, was found not guilty of a noncriminal disorderly conduct charge.

MaryAnne Elizabeth Coyle, 43, an urban planner, and Eric A. Bifaro, 19, were found not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing and resisting arrest and noncriminal disorderly conduct charges.

Buffalo City Judge Patrick M. Carney reached his decisions in the case early Monday evening, concluding a weeklong nonjury trial.

The judge blamed both the bicyclists and police for overreacting. He also said police used justified law enforcement techniques during the street encounter on Elmwood Avenue between North and Summer streets.

Both Niman and Fredenthal were sentenced to time served -- the several hours each spent in jail following the encounter.

The judge, who ordered the court records of all five defendants sealed from public view, imposed a $95 "state tax" on both Niman and Fredenthal and gave them 90 days to pay that fine, which is linked to court costs.

As Carney issued his verdict, Coyle and Simmonds thanked the judge, and the large crowd of supporters from Critical Mass applauded.

None of the defendants commented on the verdicts.

Robbie Lee Billingsley, Niman's attorney, said she will "have to discuss with my client" the possibility of appealing Carney's verdict.

Attorney Mark J. Mahoney, who represented Fredenthal, Simmonds and Bifaro, said Fredenthal will not appeal the verdict.

Trial prosecutors Jeffrey J. Hagen and J. Patrick Lennon declined to comment.

Carney said he was both "flattered and dismayed that there was no jury" in the case and that he "never had a more difficult" verdict to reach.

Simmonds was arrested after he refused repeated requests from a police officer to get off the street.

The judge also said supervisory officers who arrived at the scene, in which about a dozen officers were outnumbered 10-1 by bicyclists, "wrongfully" feared for the safety of police after learning Niman had bitten an officer's finger.

Niman was found guilty of both harassment and disorderly conduct for the biting incident.

But the judge said he couldn't fault supervisory officers for taking fast action to ensure the safety of police during the 15-minute confrontation.

He also faulted Niman, who was photographing the confrontation as a professional journalist, for failing to adequately identify himself to officers with press credentials and for continuing to photograph Simmonds' arrest after being ordered off the street.

Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

November 22, 2003 Saturday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 416 words


BYLINE: MATT GRYTA; News Staff Reporter

Michael I. Niman, a Buffalo State College professor and freelance journalist, conceded Friday that he badly "misread" what proved to be a volatile confrontation last spring between Buffalo police and Critical Mass, a bicycling group he is researching.

Niman, 45, one of four remaining suspects in the case who faces a possible one-year local jail term, told City Judge Patrick M. Carney he didn't intentionally bite the hand of a police officer during the confrontation at Elmwood Avenue and Summer Street about 7 p.m. May 30. Police said the bicyclists were interfering with traffic flow and ignored orders to get out of the street.

After a marathon court session that ended the five-day nonjury trial about 8:30 p.m. Friday, Carney vowed to review all the testimony and applicable law over the weekend and listen to closing legal arguments Monday morning.

Niman and his co-defendants, MaryAnne E. Coyle, 43, Craig J. Fredenthal, 23, and Eric A. Bifaro, 19, all face possible one-year jail terms on charges of resisting arrest, obstructing and disorderly conduct charges; Heron Simmonds, 33, whose arrest sparked the confrontation, faces only a possible 15-day jail term.

Carney dismissed obstructing and resisting arrest charges Wednesday against Simmonds, a Canisius College ethics professor.

Niman also faces misdemeanor assault and harassment charges for allegedly intentionally biting Officer Robert Johnson's right hand as he was being subdued.

Niman told the judge Johnson struck him on his bike helmet several times and slammed him face-first onto a police car as Johnson kept photographing Simmonds' arrest.

Niman insisted he had already advised the other officer he was a working journalist and claimed he never got closer than six feet to the other officer when Johnson jumped him from behind.

Niman, who along with Coyle has filed a notice of claim for possible lawsuits against the city, the Buffalo Police Department and various police officers, conceded Johnson's right middle finger may have been injured when the officer grabbed his face before throwing him to the ground.

"I don't really have a clear recollection of what happened," Niman told the judge.

Coyle, who said she still feels pain in her right elbow from having been thrown onto a curb by a police officer during the melee, told the judge she has no intention of suing for financial damages, other than to cover some of her continuing medical expenses.

Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

November 20, 2003 Thursday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 363 words


BYLINE: MATT GRYTA; News Staff Reporter

All criminal charges against Siobhan K. McCollum, a Buffalo businesswoman arrested in a confrontation between Buffalo police and a group of bicyclists, were dismissed Wednesday. Another defendant accepted a delayed dismissal of charges, and a third pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

With the nonjury trial of five remaining suspects continuing, City Judge Patrick M. Carney late Wednesday dismissed obstruction and disorderly conduct charges against McCollum, 28.

Buffalo restaurant cook Genevieve Bojado, 20, accepted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal on resisting arrest, harassment, obstruction and disorderly conduct charges.

The judge told Bojado that if she remains arrest-free for the next six months, her criminal case will be sealed.

Jonathan Piret, 21, a University at Buffalo fine arts major, pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge and was sentenced to time served for the five hours he was in custody after his arrest.

The trial continued today with defense witnesses testifying.

Also Wednesday, the judge dismissed resisting arrest and all but one of the six disorderly conduct charges against Canisius College ethics professor Heron Simmonds, 33.

The judge ruled that Simmonds' guilt or innocence on the remaining charge of disorderly conduct, for allegedly disobeying orders from Buffalo police officers, "will turn upon whether" police lawfully ordered him off the street during the confrontation at Elmwood Avenue and Summer Street.

The judge refused to dismiss a misdemeanor assault charge against Buffalo State professor Michael Niman, 45, for allegedly biting the finger of the officer who arrested him. He also left two disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges pending against Niman.

The judge refused to dismiss misdemeanor and noncriminal infractions against the remaining defendants -- Buffalo urban planner Mary Ann Coyle, 42; Buffalo stagehand Craig J. Freudenthal, 23; and Buffalo punk rock musician Eric A. Bifaro, 19.

Carney said, "There's plenty of blame to go around for the defendants and the Buffalo Police Department for the creation of this whole mess."

Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

November 19, 2003 Wednesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 605 words


BYLINE: MATT GRYTA; News Staff Reporter

The bikers arrested after a confrontation with Buffalo police last spring were blocking traffic on Elmwood Avenue as part of a protest over the lack of a bike path, the judge at their trial was told Tuesday.

Police Officer Michael Bauer, one of the first to confront the bicyclists who were part of the local Critical Mass bicycle movement, testified that he unsuccessfully tried to get the bikers to pull over so northbound traffic could pass in the area around North and Summer streets.

Bauer, whose partner was injured in the confrontation with the bikers on May 30, told City Judge Patrick M. Carney the bikers said they were blocking the northbound lane because "they were protesting for a bicycle path on Elmwood Avenue."

Bauer said he told the bikers "the city cannot even afford to turn on the lights at night," and suggested they take their complaints to City Hall and Erie County Hall.

He said the bikers continued to block the northbound lane, with some veering into the oncoming southbound lane before he and his partner, Officer Daniel Horan, called for backup officers.

Bauer said the bikers ignored his order to "stay to the right" to allow traffic to move at normal speeds.

The three-day-old nonjury trial sought by the defendants continues today.

On trial are Buffalo State College professor and freelance journalist Michael Niman, 45; Canisius College ethics professor Heron Simmonds, 33; Jonathan Piret, 21, a UB student from Lockport; Buffalo businesswoman Siobhan K. McCollum, 28; and Buffalo urban planner Mary Ann Coyle, 42.

Also on trial are stagehand Craig J. Freudenthal, 23; restaurant cook Genevieve Bojado, 20; and punk rock musician Eric A. Bifaro, 19, all of Buffalo. Niman and Piret both face misdemeanor assault charges. All the defendants face resisting arrest, obstructing, disorderly conduct and harassment counts.

The defendants are part of the national Critical Mass movement that began in San Francisco in 1992 and has spread to more than 300 cities.

Also Tuesday, Police Lt. Thomas Keane, a Central District supervisor, testified that Coyle threw her bicycle at him and repeatedly swore at him and police officers.

Keane said he called for more police backup because there were only a half-dozen or so officers present, and he had "some issues of safety" for the public and the officers dealing with the bikers.

Keane said Coyle "threw her bike at me" from the middle of the street after repeatedly ignoring his requests to leave. Keane said he arrested McCollum after she also refused to get off the street.

Keane testified that when he got to the intersection, Officer Robert Johnson, whom Michael Niman is accused of assaulting, was "bent over in some kind of pain" because Niman had allegedly bitten his right index finger.

When he arrived at the scene, at least three bikers were holding hands and dancing in the middle of the street blocking all vehicular traffic, Keane testified.

Defense attorney Mark J. Mahoney got both police witnesses to confirm that none of the defendants was frisked for possible dangerous weapons before they were taken back to police headquarters for booking. He said this suggests that they were never considered dangerous by police.

Also Tuesday, Buffalo orthopedic surgeon Dr. A. Marc Tetro, a specialist in hand injuries, told the judge that he ordered Johnson to remain off duty from June 3 when he first examined him until July 16.

The surgeon said the injury to Johnson's finger, which was bitten, was so severe it would have prevented Johnson from holding his service revolver.

Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

November 18, 2003 Tuesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 508 words


BYLINE: MATT GRYTA; News Staff Reporter

A Buffalo police officer kicked by a bicyclist during the Critical Mass confrontation on Elmwood Avenue on May 30 testified Monday that the rider acted "out of fear" while being subdued and not because he intended to injure the officer.

Officer Daniel Horan, responding to a question posed to him by City Judge Patrick M. Carney, said Jonathan Piret, 21, "was kicking out of fear."

The trial continued today. Horan, the first witness during the nonjury trial, said that the kick left him short of breath and that his injured left side "hurt so bad" he enlisted the help of other officers to subdue Piret on the hood of his parked patrol car.

Conceding bike riders are allowed under state law to ride "two abreast" on streets, Horan told the judge the long line of bicyclists participating in the Critical Mass demonstration significantly slowed motor traffic at a busy time on that section of Elmwood Avenue, about 7 p.m.

Horan, who summoned more police assistance to Elmwood, between North and Summer streets, testified that Piret threw his camera at him and denounced police.

Horan was the first of an estimated two dozen witnesses at what is expected to be a two-week trial requested by eight defendants charged with misdemeanor and noncriminal offenses in the confrontation.

Under cross-examination by Piret's attorney, Andrew C. LoTempio, Horan said he initially called for assistance because the 100 or more bicyclists seemed to be slowing traffic that evening.

Horan also admitted making another call for assistance in which he referred to the riders as "derelicts on bikes." He said he did that after he got back into his patrol car to write summonses as onlookers began throwing coins at officers at the urging of the riders.

Horan said he used that word because he feared the situation was "getting out of hand."

Horan agreed with LoTempio that the bicyclists, in LoTempio's words, "seemed to erupt" when one of the backup police officers -- wearing a bulletproof vest, black gloves and carrying a nightstick -- arrived and got into a scuffle with one of Piret's co-defendants.

Horan said he "could tell the level of anxiety was starting to rise" following the arrests of cyclists Michael Niman, 45, a Buffalo State College professor, and Heron Simmonds, 33, a Canisius College ethics professor.

Under cross-examination Horan said that in his calls for help to the police dispatcher he "never said" the riders were rioting or violent.

Niman and Piret are the only defendants facing misdemeanor assault charges.

Piret is charged with kicking Horan, and Niman is accused of biting the gloved hand of another officer, who had a nightstick.

Also on trial before Carney are Siobhan K. McCollum, 38; Mary Ann Coyle, 42; Craig J. Freudenthal, 23; Genevieve Bojado, 20; and Eric A. Bifaro, 19.

The eight are part of the national Critical Mass movement, an advocacy group for the rights of bicyclists, which began in San Francisco in 1992 and has spread to more than 300 cities.

Copyright 2003 The Buffalo News 
Buffalo News (New York)

November 17, 2003 Monday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 420 words


BYLINE: MATT GRYTA; News Staff Reporter

Attorneys for eight Critical Mass bicyclists told a judge today they will use more than 170 photographs to prove that "pumped up" police created a "zone of aggression" during a May 30 confrontation on Elmwood Avenue.

As the cyclists' nonjury trial began before City Judge Patrick M. Carney, defense attorneys Robbie Lee Billingsley, Marc S. Gromis and Mark J. Mahoney disputed prosecution claims that their clients blocked traffic and staged a street riot.

They said the photos will show that onlookers watched in horror as police began a violent confrontation by assaulting cyclist Michael Niman, 45, from behind as he photographed police at the scene.

Prosecutor Jeffrey J. Hagen vowed to prove the bikers were arrested because of their "arrogance and disrespect" for laws.

The eight were charged with offenses ranging from resisting arrest to using obscenities to assault. The arrests came during one of the monthly rides organized by Critical Mass, a group that advocates for the rights of bicyclists.

Mahoney said the defense photographs will show the May 30 confrontation became violent only after uniformed officers called to the scene as backup overreacted and tried to stop members from photographing police behavior.

Gromis said his client, Mary Ann Coyle, 42, was violently manhandled by police and that as she was shoved into a cellblock with minority women, police loudly and falsely described her as a "racist."

Billingsley told the judge that Heron Simmonds, 33, an adjunct professor of ethics at Canisius College and the only nonwhite defendant in the case, "was arrested because he was black."

Hagen and co-prosecutor J. Patrick Lennon told the judge they will call two physicians later in the trial to establish physical injuries suffered by several police officers who tried to subdue the cyclists.

Also on trial before Carney are Jonathan Piret, 21; Siobhan K. McCollum, 38; Genevieve Bojado, 20; Craig J. Freudenthal, 23; and Eric A. Bifaro, 19.

The eight defendants, part of the approximately 100 local bikers who stage monthly trips throughout the Buffalo area, are part of the nationally active Critical Mass bikers movement that began in San Francisco in 1992 and spread to more than 300 cities nationwide.

Niman, a Buffalo State College professor of mass communications and an independent journalist, and Piret, who also took photos of police behavior during the incident, are the only defendants facing misdemeanor assault charges.

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