NEW YORK – The clash between the rookie police officer and the bike-riding activist happened in an instant. The fallout lasted for almost two years after video of the Times Square confrontation became a YouTube sensation.
It ended Wednesday as former officer Patrick Pogan's criminal case was closed without jail time or probation after he was convicted of lying about the 2008 incident.
Pogan, 24, fought back tears, hugged relatives and thanked his lawyer and police union after hearing his sentence, technically known as a conditional discharge.
He had gone to a Manhattan court facing the possibility of up to four years in prison, but a judge turned down prosecutors' request for time behind bars and even a defense lawyer's suggestion of community service.
"My family raised me to help people," the former emergency medical technician told the judge before being sentenced. "And that is what I would like to continue to do, and put this nightmare behind me — it was a nightmare — and prove to you I am a highly productive member of society."
His sentencing capped a case that highlighted the growing role of witness videos in law enforcement and spotlighted a history of conflict between the city's police and a group of pro-cycling demonstrators.
Jurors in April acquitted Pogan of assault and harassment in his encounter with pro-cycling activist Christopher Long. But Pogan was convicted of filing false documents after a witness's video contradicted his account in a court document.
Assistant District Attorney Ryan Connors pressed for jail time for Pogan, saying "the entire fairness of the criminal justice system was called into question" by his falsehoods. Pogan's misleading account led to attempted assault and other charges against Long; the charges ultimately were dropped.
But defense lawyer Stuart London portrayed Pogan as a novice who "made an isolated mistake on paperwork."
Pogan, then about 10 days out of the police academy, was assigned to keep order and watch out for traffic violations as a loosely knit bike protest called Critical Mass passed through Times Square on July 25, 2008.
Participants and police have had a rocky relationship since more than 260 cyclists were arrested during what authorities saw as a chaotic Critical Mass ride shortly before the Republican National Convention in 2004.
The Pogan case stoked the tensions, with the president of the Police Benevolent Association union decrying it Wednesday as the result of "anarchists" who "were looking for a confrontation with police." The group that organizes the group ride, Time's Up, said it was disappointed with Pogan's sentence but hoped the incident and aftermath would ultimately improve relations between officers and cyclists.
Pogan said he told Long to stop to get ticketed for such infractions as taking his hands off his handlebars. Long kept going, and he testified he never heard any instruction to stop.
Pogan initially reported that Long steered into him and knocked him down, but a tourist's video showed the officer striding over to Long and shoving him off his bike. The video has garnered more than 2 million YouTube views.
Pogan testified that he was trying to protect himself and never meant to misrepresent what happened.
State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said he found incarceration and further court supervision unwarranted in Pogan's case. A conditional discharge usually involves conditions a defendant must meet for the case to be closed, but Wiley didn't set any.
Long, a sometime farmer and farmer's market worker, wasn't seriously hurt. He got a $65,000 settlement after suing the city. His lawyer didn't immediately return a call Wednesday.
Pogan resigned last year from the New York Police Department and has been working construction jobs. His felony conviction will bar him from police work, in which he'd hoped to follow his father's and grandfather's examples.
His father, a retired city detective also named Patrick Pogan, said it had been painful to see his son prosecuted.
"He did what he thought was best," the father said.