DA Offers Plea to Road Rager Gonzalez

20090521_AssaultOnCyclistD_1.jpgThe DA's office has not contacted the witness who took this photograph of Gus Gonzalez last May.

At a hearing in criminal court on Monday, Manhattan prosecutors offered a plea deal to Gus Gonzalez, the driver who assaulted cyclist Ray Bengen in the Ninth Avenue bike lane last May.

Gonzalez had been charged with third degree assault, a misdemeanor offense. The offer from the DA's office would reduce the charge to disorderly conduct, classified as a violation (which would not appear on Gonzalez's criminal record). Gonzalez would have to complete one day of community service if he accepts the plea, which he declined to do on Monday, asking instead for the case to be dismissed pending good behavior.

Dave Rankin, an attorney who often represents cyclists, told me it's common for prosecutors to offer this type of deal when the original charge is third degree assault. But how seriously has the DA's office pursued the case? The witness who photographed the assault -- in which Gonzalez knocked Bengen to the pavement with the door of his Ford Excursion, badly bruising Bengen's leg, then drove away from the scene -- says neither police nor prosecutors have contacted him about what happened.

"I never got any contact from anybody," said the witness, who declined to give his name, citing concerns for his safety. He described the dooring as a seemingly willful effort by Gonzalez to harm Bengen. "Ray was next to the SUV, basically next to the door. He was barely moving. I think [Gonzalez] intentionally knocked him down."

Given the DA's large misdemeanor caseload, Rankin said, it's not unusual for witnesses to go unquestioned at this stage of the legal process. The Gonzalez case may not go to trial, and Assistant District Attorneys typically don't contact witnesses until immediately before a trial gets underway.

Though the circumstances and severity of the crime differ, the consequences for Gonzalez still stand in marked contrast to the sentence recently handed down to L.A. road rager Dr. Christopher Thompson, who got five years for using his car to injure two cyclists.

"[Gonzalez] didn’t kill Ray, but it was an assault," said the witness, "and he ought to have it on his record."