I-Witness Video Blog : The Policing of Protest
Police Spokesman Omits Facts Under Oath
Wednesday, 1 Apr 2009
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I-Witness Video was alarmed to discover this week that Paul J. Browne, the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, appears to have lied under oath. The revelations came in the wake of a deposition during the proceedings of a civil lawsuit brought against the City of New York by members of the Five Borough Bicycle Club (5BBC). In the course of answering questions put to him by the bike club's pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Debovoise, Plimpton, Browne attempted to stonewall. Even though he was generally asked only basic information about how he does his job, Browne denied being able to remember specific details, such as who told him a fact, or where he read something. Browne said, "I don't recall" on 40 occasions and he answered, "I don't know" 62 times.
But, most alarmingly, it looks like Browne may have out-and-out lied about his presence at Critical Mass bike rides. When asked directly how many times he had been present at Critical Mass rides in Manhattan, he stated that he had only been present at a single ride, and that it was purely coincidental.
The following quotes are from the deposition transcript:
5BBC attorney: Did you observe any police proceeding along with the ride at that time?
Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (DCPI) Browne: No.
5BBC attorney: Were you there present with other individuals from the police department?
DCPI Browne: No.
5BBC attorney: Were you there pursuant to -- pursuant to your job or was it incidental that you happened to be there?
DCPI Browne: Incidental.
So far, so good. Perhaps Browne did just happen to come across this particular Critical Mass ride without any police around. He says he was not working at the time. He cannot remember the date but states elsewhere in the transcript that the event happened in the past three to four years and included scores or possibly hundreds of riders. But although his testimony about a chance encounter with Critical Mass seems specific and possible, his answers to subsequent questions were not as truthful:
5BBC attorney: Okay. Where did you observe the event? [a Critical Mass bike ride in Manhattan]
DCPI Browne: South of Columbus Circle.
5BBC attorney: And have you observed other events or just that one time?
NYC Lawyer: Other --
5BBC attorney: Critical Mass events.
DCPI Browne: Just that one time as I recall.
Really? We thought to ourselves when we read that. That's funny. Because video evidence exists showing that in fact Browne has been present at another Critical Mass ride -- he was at the scene of a very different Critical Mass ride on August 27, 2004. That's the ride where the NYPD arrested 264 people on the night before the Republic National Convention.
Since Paul Browne seems to have a hard time remembering almost anything about his job in the past few years, we have decided to help jog his memory about some key events.
The video evidence shows a pretty remarkable scene that night. Shot in the vicinity of St. Mark's Church in the East Village, it records events surrounding the arrest of 88 people. One clip which comes from the NYPD's own TARU unit, shows a man being violently knocked down a few feet from Browne. On that hot summer night, there were hundreds of onlookers gathered on the sidewalks. The police completely occupied Second Avenue for several blocks with riot cops, motorcycles and bikes. Several NYPD chiefs were on hand, including the top uniformed man himself, Joseph Esposito, the four-star Chief of Department. There were also a number of DCPI staff in attendance including Chief Michael Collins. In the linked video, Browne can be seen talking on his cell phone in the middle of the fray while holding a police radio in his other hand with badge and ID visible. Two police helicopters and the blimp NYPD borrowed from Fuji film hovered overhead. Based on the video footage from the NYPD, Indymedia and a legal observer, it appears that Browne was at the scene for a minimum of a half hour. This event, its location, and Browne's role on site are all so dissimilar to the other Manhattan event he describes that it does not appear to be possible that he is confusing the two.
Because of the amount of time he spent at this event, because of the extreme nature of what was taking place around him, and because Browne went on to become the chief propagandist for the NYPD's war on Critical Mass, it is quite hard to believe this was an entirely innocent omission.
Of course, Browne's mere presence at this scene is not a problem. It is only his failure to disclose that information under oath that raises questions. So, why didn't Browne just say he was there?
To understand why Browne neglected to mention these events when asked directly under oath, we may need to understand more about who Paul Browne is. Browne is far more than just the in-house PR guy. One newspaper reporter told me that Browne was Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's aide-de-camp, in the sense of a military confidential advisor or right-hand man. Ray Kelly has called Browne, "My wartime consiglieri." By many accounts, Browne seems to believe that his role is protect and serve Commissioner Ray Kelly. Perhaps if the depth of Browne's involvement with Ray Kelly's campaign against Critical Mass were closely examined, it would raise uncomfortable questions for the Police Commissioner.