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Police investigate off-duty officer breaking up crowd of cyclists

By: Stacey Welsh

EL PASO, Texas --  Cyclists in the Critical Mass group said they were worried people could get hurt when an off-duty officer from the El Paso Police Department started weaving through their crowd Friday night.

"It was complete chaos," Critical Mass organizer Emmanuel Barraza said.

Barraza said his group of cyclists often "corks" or blocks off downtown El Paso streets during their monthly ride. He said this happens because there are usually about 150 riders in the group.

"It's safer for us to keep it as a group, even if we have to run the red lights," Barraza said.

The El Paso Police Department said blocking streets and running red lights is illegal, and that's why police say the off-duty officer, Jorge Gonzalez, tried to break up the cyclists. However, police are investigating whether he is justified in taking action while off duty.

"Internal affairs will be handling the case. It is considered a criminal case, at this time no one has been booked," Detective Mike Baranyay said in a statement. Baranyay is a spokesperson for the El Paso Police Department.

Some are worried this incident will discourage others from riding bikes.

"My understanding is there were a lot of young kids in that group and a lot of parents riding with their kids. I just think it's really disappointing that this actually happened," Crazy Cat Cyclery general manager Belen Barrio-Arriaga said.

Scott White of the local cycling group Velo Paso said this incident should raise awareness of how drivers and cyclists could better share the road.

"It's a protest for the cyclists to be noticed, and that's the spirit of the Critical  Mass," Barraza said.

Critical Mass also wants to keep something like this from happening again and encourages people to keep riding.

"We need to talk to the city or somebody because we need help. If they don't want us to cork then [we would like] them to help us with escorting or have police help us," Barraza said.

The Police Department hopes to release more information about this case early next week.