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Stolen-bike case in Suffolk raises questions

Kevin Kane, commanding officer of the Suffolk police

Kevin Kane, commanding officer of the Suffolk police department's First Precinct, during the community meeting at the West Babylon Library on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A Deer Park man faces a criminal charge after he allegedly stole a bicycle from a 15-year-old boy in a confrontation videotaped and shared on social media.

The family of the teen and several supporters spoke at a Suffolk County Police community meeting Thursday night at the West Babylon Public Library. About 80 people attended the meeting, held monthly by the First Precinct.

They questioned why it took several days for the charge against the suspect to be upgraded from harassment to second-degree robbery aided by another, and whether race played a part in the handling of the case. The teen is black and the suspect is white.

At the meeting, police officials said they acted on video evidence as soon as they learned about it and said race wasn’t the reason behind any delay. Police detectives ruled out a hate crime charge because they said the suspect did not take the bike “solely” because the teenager is black, officials said at the meeting.

The suspect, Robert Bishop, 36, pleaded not guilty Thursday in First District Court in Central Islip. He was released on a $10,000 bond and ordered to stay away from the teen.

Bishop’s attorney, Steven Politi, said a bike had been stolen in July from the son of one of Bishop’s friends and someone told Bishop that it was outside the Taco Bell at 1937 Deer Park Ave., prompting him to drive there.

“Why would a grown man want to steal a bike from a child in front of dozens of people?” Politi said in a phone interview.

Bishop was trying to “keep the bicycle there until the police could sort it out,” Politi said.

On Saturday, at about 2:45 p.m., First Precinct officers responded to a disturbance at the Taco Bell and were told a man had stolen a bicycle from the teen and driven off with it, police said.

Witnesses reported the plate number of the vehicle, which led officers to arrest Bishop at his home and recover the bike Saturday, police said. Bishop was released with a desk appearance ticket.

Police said Bishop drove off with the bike and changed the pedals and a chain, two components that made the bike distinct.

On Tuesday, detectives began preparing a robbery case after reviewing a video of the dispute, Insp. Kevin Kane said at the meeting. They rearrested Bishop on Wednesday, alleging in court papers that he and others “took by force” a red and yellow BMX bike from the youth.

Videos of the confrontation and comments from the teen’s mother spread on social media, including on the Facebook pages of Black Long Island, Shades of Long Island and Tracey Edwards, who is Long Island regional director of the NAACP.

On Facebook, the teen’s mother wrote: “My son worked all summer and saved up to purchase this bike and now after this nightmare ordeal he still has to suffer!”

At the meeting, the mother said she showed the video to officers at the scene.

Supporters of the teen said Bishop should be charged with other crimes, including endangering the welfare of a child and a hate crime.

After the meeting, Det. Lt. Shaun Spillane said the goal is not necessarily about filing a charge quickly but about “doing it right” to make sure the evidence stands in court. Kane said detectives had been tied up with other key, new cases and began reviewing video Tuesday after a community leader alerted them to it.

Spillane said additional charges may be filed against Bishop and investigators are trying to identify others who helped him.

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