A judge has found an NYPD officer guilty of a felony for lying about the arrest of New York Times photographer Robert Stolarik, who was briefly jailed in August of 2012 after photographing a stop and frisk in the Concourse neighborhood of the Bronx.
Earlier today in Bronx Supreme Court, Judge Michael Gross convicted NYPD Officer Michael Ackermann of a single count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a Class E felony. Judge Gross found Ackermann not guilty of other misdemeanor charges related to tampering with public records and falsifying business records.
Officer Ackermann, who was supported by his family members and several representatives from the PBA, did not visibly react to the verdict, and Judge Gross offered no explanation for his decision.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Stolarik said, "I'm overwhelmed, and I'm emotional," and added that the "DA took this case very seriously. Justice has been served. He was comfortable sending me to prison to ruin my career and I think that turned around on him, he was charged with a felony and it ruined his career."
Ackermann had claimed that Stolarik repeatedly discharged his camera's flash in Ackermann's face while he was trying to arrest a 15-year-old girl, "blinding him and preventing him from performing his duties." Ackermann also said that the photographer “violently resisted being handcuffed,” injuring another officer on their hand.
In fact, there was no flashbulb attached to Stolarik's camera. During the trial, a camera expert testified that Stolarik's camera wasn't capable of producing a flash.
In multiple interviews after his arrest, Stolarik said the officers tried to prevent him from photographing the encounter, and that when he asked for their badge numbers, he was "surrounded and taken down — dragged, kicked, and stomped on." Stolarik spent the night in jail, and his equipment and press credentials were confiscated; he was also charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, though those charges were eventually dropped.
Stolarik later called the NYPD's version of what happened "the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life."
"They just get to say whatever they feel like saying and then charging me with whatever they feel like charging me with to justify their actions," Stolarik told New York Magazine.
Ackermann could lose his job and spend up to fours years in prison. At trial, he portrayed his account of the events as an honest mixup.
"I keep going over it and trying to figure out how I could have made that big of a mistake,” he told the judge, according to the Daily News.
Ackermann is due back in court on December 2nd for sentencing.
"I have a lot of respect for the police department and members of the police department," Stolarik told reporters. "I will say that there are a few guys that do what Ackermann did, they lie and give and excuses for their actions and it's acceptable by their superiors and I guess they feel that it is acceptable."
Additional reporting by Christopher Robbins.