Thirty-five people turned out at noon on May 23 at the Twelve Corners park in nearby Brighton to march in solidarity with the international March Against Monsanto taking place that day. Representatives of GMO-Free Rochester and the Northeast Organic Farmers Association were present but no political leaders attended. Even a show overhead by the US Navy Blue Angels did not distract from the message.
Monsanto is a large chemical corporation that is a leader in the development and deployment of "Genetically Modified Organisms" (GMO's) in our food supply. GMO's are suspected of causing health effects. They are also suspect in causing mass deaths of beneficial insects such as bees and monarch butterflies. The company has attempted and often succeeded in suppressing research into those effects.
The protesters are not demanding a ban on GMO's, only a label on GMO food alerting people that they are present in a particular food product.
Support and opposition to labeling fall largely along party lines with Democrats generally in favor of labeling and Republicans opposed. In DC, New York senator Gillibrand and representative Louise Slaughter have signed onto bills requiring labeling. Senator Schumer has not acted. Several states have proposed labeling requirements pending. You can see them here, and also read New York's proposed law. There is also contact information for your state and federal representatives.
In order to avoid lawsuits from Monsanto and other giant chemical and agricultural corporations, many of the states have a so-called "trigger clause" in their laws that prevent the law from taking effect until a number (often five) other states pass the same law. This is currently the case in Maine and Connecticut where laws have been passed but have not taken effect. New York's proposed law does not have a trigger but its passage would help those in neighboring states.
Dan Courtney speaks about a new after-school program for elementary students, Young Skeptics. Young Skeptics, is sponsored by The Better News Club, Inc., an organization which was created first as an alternative to the Good News Club,
a Christian evangelical group who enters public schools to proselytize to children. The mission of Young Skeptics is to promote and facilitate critical thinking and evidence-based learning among the youth of local school districts.
For more information go to their website at http://www.youngskeptics.net/
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 282 and their supporters rallied on at the RGRTA headquarters protesting the decisions made by CEO Bill Carpenter that will cost 144 workers their jobs, and leave the Rochester City School District trying to figure out transportation for 9,000 students to and from school as of July 1st of this year. Dominick Zarcone, Vice President of explains why they are rallying.
Roy Bourgeois shared his thoughts, ideas, experiences and philosopy with the Rochester community. His talk encompassed his thoughts on the Catholic Church, equal marriage, SOA, "Las 17", women in the priesthood, and his own canonical dismissal from both the Maryknolls, and the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Roy Bourgeois, a priest for more than 40 years, became an outspoken opponent of U.S. policy in Latin America after four U.S. churchwomen--two of them friends of his--were raped and killed by Salvadoran soldiers. In 1990, he founded School of the Americas (SOA) Watch to shut down the school in Fort Benning, Georgia, that trained the military perpetrators of repression and torture in Latin America to conduct campaigns against democratic movements from the 1980s on. SOA Watch has grown to more than 10,000 supporters.
He has since cumulatively spent more than 4 years in Federal prison for his nonviolent protests against the SOA. He produced a documentary about the SOA, called “School of Assassins,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2010, Father Bourgeois continues to oppose the school that has been renamed, but still trains Latin American military leaders in oppressive tactics. He and an SOA Watch delegation recently traveled to El Salvador where they met with the Salvadoran President Ceren, human rights leaders and others who inspired them to keep working to close the SOA/WHINSEC. The delegation also met with 5 of 17 Salvadoran women who have been sentenced to 30-year prison terms for having miscarriages. He has been working since his return from El Salvador to ensure that "Las 17" are not forgotten. On April 24, he and others launched a sit-in at the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington, D.C, to bring attention to this injustice and free the women. They were arrested and jailed overnight.
The City of Rochester is no longer. To commemorate the life of fallen Rochester Police Officer Darryl Pierson, state and local officials agreed to change the nearly two-century-old name to Pierson. The signage upon entering downtown was the first to be commemorated.
On Tuesday, April 28th, City Councilman Matt Haag, Mayor Lovely Warren, along with former police chief, mayor, Lieutenant Governor and current Rochester Business Alliance President Bob Duffy did the dedication ceremonies.
"We didn't think the several hundred tributes, festivals, marches, motorcades, and fundraisers for Officer Pierson were quite enough to mark the greatness of this American patriot's dedication to this city and country," said Duffy in explaining the name change. "But our efforts won't stop here," he said to a crowd of several thousand residents.
The Rochester Police Locust Club President Michael D. Mazzeo reported that a statue of Officer Pierson would be erected outside the police headquarters on Exchange Street later in the week. "It is only fitting that a larger than life hero of ours be given an impressive sized monument in his honor," said Mazzeo.
The monument will be the city's largest structure of its kind, greater in size than the Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and Nathaniel Rochester statues combined.
Defense lawyers for Thomas Johnson III –the man on trial this week for killing Officer Pierson, questioned the timing of the city name change and statue construction.
"We don't think that the jury arriving downtown seeing the new sign or seeing the statue will be influenced," responded District Attorney Doorley. "They have other things on their mind."
The jury are forbidden to read the local newspaper, television, or view the internet
“There is a good chance those selected members won't even know of these occurrences," said Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moran, who is presiding over the case and is also a former police officer.
"Besides that," Moran continued, "I am growing tired of these charades put on by the defense attorneys. The name change of Rochester to Pierson was in the works two months ago. This is old news, it has no bearing on the outcome of this case."
"The irony floating above most Rochesterians’ heads is that our city that was formerly named after a slave trader, is now named after a slave catcher," said Professor Truth Givins, of the Criminology Dept. at the University of Pierson (formerly University of Rochester).
She explained that Nathaniel Rochester, the 19th Century founder of Rochesterville whom the city would eventually be named after, was revealed to be a slave trader in 2005 when a 1790 account book of Rochester's was purchased by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of the University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library. The ledger clearly showed the purchase and sale of numerous human beings by Rochester and his two partners.
Givens noted that the accused Johnson had been caught up in the racist criminal justice system.
"When officers incarcerate these young men on soft crimes they are just feeding into the New Jim Crow." This was a reference to the book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which is also Writers and Books' 2015 selection for the If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book event.
"Why the RPD has to go all GI-Joe on a parole who had already done his time, and on a soft crime at that, I can't understand," said Givins. "Johnson was just defending himself from essentially the modern day slave catcher."
Rochester City Schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, for his part, announced there would be a daily moment of silence in memory of Officer Pierson, just following the Pledge of Allegiance every morning district wide.
While the Obama Administration has already lavished a half billion dollars worth of military equipment on local police departments, his administration promises to do more. "I said we would pull our troops home from Iraq precisely because we need those crime fighting resources here in our inner cities."
Duffy, as mayor in 2008 installed the first 50 police cameras in Rochester. Now as CEO of Rochester Business Alliance he is working in partnership with Senator Chuck Schumer to secure federal funding for 300 more cameras to be installed along Hudson Avenue - an area where two shootings of police officers have occurred in the past 5 years. In 2009, Tyquan Rivera, a 14 year-old from this neighborhood, shot and nearly paralyzed Officer Anthony DiPonzio.
Michael C. Green, executive commissioner of New York state's Division of Criminal Justice Services, announced that he is already working with incoming Attorney General Loretta Lynch to develop a pilot drone surveillance program for the nation right here in Rochester.
"It's tremendous technology," Green said Tuesday night. These will be limited use surveillance drones targeting strictly the Hudson Ave. area, but Green promises to expand the program to the rest of the city's hot spots with the help of Lynch. Earlier this month Green revealed a new state of the art crime analysis center for Rochester, which is also a first of its kind for the nation.
"The possibilities are pretty much endless," Green said.
Before the recording began, two cops in separate parked police cars in the Arnett Library parking lot, appeared to be waiting for the city youth to make their way past them (Rochester Police Department police cars).
[The video was recorded by Justice Hill on April 15, 2015, at approximately 6:30pm. Rochester Indymedia is sharing the video and her account of what happened with her permission.]
Once the youth were visible to the RPD officers, they then ferociously drove the city's police vehicles across the street from the Arnett Library parking lot towards the youth, and jumped out and arrested one youth. While the cop did this, the now handcuffed and arrested youth's brother/friend began to exchange words with the cop, asking the cop why his brother/friend was being arrested (which he has every right to do).
Once the youth began to ask questions the cop began to threaten the youth with arrest if he didn't leave, and began to speak to the youth in a very demeaning and derogatory manner.
The reason I started to record the cops' activity was because I did not agree with the cop threatening the youth. These two cops spoke to and treated these two youth as if they were convicted felons. From what I observed, there was no legitimate reason for the cop to arrest the youth, however, the cop may have had just cause. I am just not certain.
When I observed how the cop was treating the youth who was concerned about his friend/brother, I begin to record the incident, and by then the concerned youth left. This is when the cops partner drove up on me and began to sound his siren.
It is vital that the cops employ more constructive methods to connect with the youth. Arresting the youth will only temporarily combat the youth's so called Delinquent Behavior. The only dialogue exchanged between myself and the cop was what was heard in the video.
Related: Ivery & Warr in court: Demand city hand over excessive force documentation | Press conference with Dwayne Ivery announcing his civil rights lawsuit against RPD & city | Exonerating police misconduct: no accountability in Benny Warr case | Professional Standards Section: How they work (at least on paper) | Edison Tech student athlete files civil rights lawsuit against police | Mr. Red's Civil Rights Complaint against RPD | Appendix to Mr. Redd's civil rights complaint against the RPD | Rally Denounces RPD Murder of Israel "Izzy" Andino! | Police reform group makes policy recs to city for body cameras | What rights? Police brutality in Rochester--a panel | Macnore “Damico” Cameron on the phone about his arrest in Ferguson, MO | Black Rose Anarchist Federation Statement and Video on #BlackLivesMatter Movement | URMC medical students participate in national action: #WhiteCoats4BlackLives | A walkthrough of Vonderrit Myers' killing | "The Whole Damn System is Guilty!" From Rochester to Ferguson -- a community report back | No Justice, No Peace--a response to the non-indictment of Darren Wilson | Black Lives Matter March & Rally @ UR: a response to the Ferguson grand jury decision | Ferguson Response Press Conference hosted by UCLM & CPR | Spontaneous protest in response to Wilson non-indictment
On April 27, 2015, federal court Judge Jonathan Feldman reserved his ruling on the discovery of personnel files of officers named in Dwayne Ivery's case of police brutality going back 10 years because, according to Charles F. Burkwit, representing Mr. Ivery, the judge “...wants to look at the case law concerning disclosure of complaints against other officers.” Corporation Counsel Spencer Ash represented the City of Rochester.
“I told [Judge Feldman] that we have a Monell claim where we have the right to explore whether the city has tolerated a custom or pattern of excessive force on the part of its officers,” said Mr. Burkwit. “Judge Feldman said he wanted to take a look at that issue and then he will issue a decision at a later time.”
The judge also intimated that he would grant the plaintiff's discovery request—giving them the personnel files of officers outside of those named in Mr. Ivery's suit where evidence of excessive force exists as well as those named in his suit going back 10 years—as long as both sides agreed to a confidentiality order and signed off on it seven days from April 27.
If Mr. Burkwit can prove his Monell claim at the trial, then the City of Rochester and its officers can be held directly liable, which would raise the amount of damages Mr. Ivery could receive for the police brutality exercised against him as well as the subsequent injuries—both psychological and physical—he has suffered since August 2013.
“I think what he's saying is that documents that the city may have may be discoverable. There's a difference between whether they are discoverable or admissible at trial. He said as far as discoverability goes, he wants the city to search the personnel files of the named officers to see if there is any excessive force complaints against them or if there is any documents in there which would go to their truth or veracity. If there are such documents, those should be disclosed to the plaintiff. But it sounds like he wants everything subject to a confidentiality order.”
Assuming the confidentiality order is signed in a week, the city has two weeks to gather all documentation asked for by Mr. Ivery's attorney, and then 30 days for it to be turned over.
“He gave the city 14 days in which to get us the other discovery responses we're entitled to,” said Mr. Burkwit. “The judge wants a confidentiality order signed in the next 7 days. Hopefully we'll have all the documentation in the next few weeks.”
If the documents are handed over to Mr. Ivery and his attorney, then they could potentially be admitted in court making them public documents. This would showcase officers' use of excessive force going back 10 years and any action taken by the department and city against those officers.
“Really, the main issue now is the excessive force complaints against the named defendants and against RPD officers. That has been the sticking point that they have not answered any of our discovery,” said Mr. Burkwit. “Instead of answering it, they move for a protective order.”
A handful of Mr. Ivery's supporters sat in the pews observing the hearing.
Dwayne Ivery was severely beat by officer Alexander Baldauf on August 17, 2013. Police were called for a domestic dispute that was quickly de-escalated. Surveillance video from Mr. Ivery's home shows police facilitating the removal of license plates from a truck that was registered to his then-girlfriend. On the video, Mr. Ivery, after conferring with officer Rickey Harris, proceeded to walk calmly toward his girlfriend and officer Baldauf in front of the truck.
Watch the surveillance video of the attack from Mr. Ivery's home:
“I thought I told you not to saying anything!” shouted officer Baldauf, without warning, according to Mr. Ivery.
Officer Baldauf then grabbed Mr. Ivery's hand and punched him in the head. Mr. Ivery stumbled around the front of the vehicle trying to move away from the officer who continued punching him numerous times in the head and face before throwing and pinning him on the ground near his garage. While pinned, officer Baldauf continued punching Mr. Ivery in the face, head, and areas all over his body. At one point, the officer stomped on Mr. Ivery's head with his boot. Officer Harris stood idly by and did nothing while Mr. Ivery lapsed in and out of consciousness with the punches. Officer Harris eventually jumped on Mr. Ivery, pinning him, while officer Baldauf continued hitting him until officer Harris finally handcuffed him.
Watch video of Charles F. Burkwit, representing Dwayne Ivery, respond after court:
Update on Benny Warr
Mr. Burkwit is also representing Benny Warr, a disabled, African American man who was brutalized by three RPD officers: Joseph M. Ferrigno II, Anthony R. Liberatore, and Sgt. Mitchell R. Stewart II. On January 13, 2015, Mr. Burkwit filed a motion to compel against the city demanding that they release discovery documentation for Mr. Warr's case. He gave an update after Mr. Ivery's hearing before Judge Feldman. Mr. Warr's discovery case will once again be heard before federal court Judge Marian Payson this Thursday, April 30, 2:00PM at the Federal Building (100 State Street). Supporters are welcome to attend; please bring your photo ID to get into the building.
Watch video of Benny Warr being assaulted at the corner of Jefferson Ave. and Bartlett St.:
“Basically, the city filed a motion for reconsideration [in the case of Benny Warr]. They are challenging Judge Payson's ruling made at the January 13, 2015 motion hearing,” said Mr. Burkwit. “They want to judge to reconsider her decision on the issue of disclosing excessive force complaints against other officers for that four-year window.”
The same foot-dragging by the city in Mr. Ivery's case has been going on for approximately 11 months in Mr. Warr's case.
“We argued that the time to move for reconsideration has long expired—that their motion is untimely. In any event, even if they do want the judge to reconsider, that basically the court is not bound by state privilege law. They are alleging the civil rights law and the public officers' law apply in shielding these documents in protecting them,” said Mr. Burkwit after court. “We argued that the state law does not apply and that the court needs to perform a balancing test to see whether or not those documents should be disclosed. We'll see what Judge Payson rules on Thursday.”
At the January 13 hearing, Judge Payson reviewed the motions, heard arguments, and ruled on five points of dispute with Mr. Warr's discovery motion. The discovery motion asked for:
- all complaints made against any officer over the last 10 years involving the use of excessive force or allegations of misconduct related to “operation cool down,” “clear the block,” or “clear the streets”
- all received records concerning citizen injuries or complaints relating to injuries sustained by arrestees from officers over the last 10 years
- provide all federal and state lawsuits brought against the city and the RPD over the last 10 years relating to “operation cool down,” “clear the block,” or “clear the streets”
- the names and badge numbers of officers found to have used excessive force as well as any names that were forwarded onto the Monroe County District Attorney's Office for prosecution in relation to “operation cool down,” “clear the block,” or “clear the streets” over the last 10 years
- and specific information for the officers named in Mr. Warr's suit
Regarding the upcoming hearng on April 30, Mr. Burkwit said, “We moved to compel discovery again because we have not gotten the discovery that we were supposed to get within 30 days after January 13. And we so moved for sanctions asking the court to impose financial sanctions against the city for deliberate failure to disclose the documentation as ordered by the court.”
Judge Payson's rulings regarding the five points of contention between Mr. Warr and the city, sequentially, were:
- She ordered that the city had to search for the requested data. However, if the search was too onerous, the city had two weeks to submit an affidavit from the person(s) doing the actual work who could testify as to why the search was too onerous a task to complete [from January 13, 2015]. She ruled that 10 years is too broad a scope and ordered that Mr. Warr be given the requested data for three years prior to his arrest and one year after. She also said that the city had four weeks to do their search and produce records from January 13.
- On this point, Judge Payson ordered that records concerning citizen injuries or complaints relating to injuries sustained by arrestees be released. However, these records were limited to arrests made by Ferrigno, Liberatore, and Stewart. She ordered the city to figure out how such complaints might be logged and hand them over to the plaintiff four weeks from the date of the hearing. Mr. Warr was to be given the requested data for three years prior to his arrest and one year after. The 10 year scope was too broad.
- Point three was simply too broad. She noted that Mr. Burkwit was aware of searchable databases for legal claims. She said he had to search for other cases against the city and police that are related to “operation cool down,” “clear the block,” or “clear the streets,” using those known databases. She did rule, however, that the city would have to search and hand over any lawsuits specifically regarding the named defendants. Mr. Warr was to be given the requested data for three years prior to his arrest and one year after. The 10 year scope was too broad.
- Exactly like Mr. Ivery's case, Mr. Burkwit filed a Monell claim in which he is attempting to prove that there is a pattern and practice within the city and the police department to not only condone the use of excessive force but also to reward and/or promote officers who have used it. In a kind of compromise, Judge Payson ruled that the city must provide the number of officers whose names were sent to the DA's office for prosecution relating to excessive force or any of the programs: “operation cool down,” “clear the block,” or “clear the streets.” She said that if no officers had been referred for prosecution, then no further action is required. However, if the city had sent the names of officers to the DA's office for prosecution, then another hearing would be held to figure out what information would be disclosed in court. Mr. Warr was to be given the requested data for three years prior to his arrest and one year after. The 10 year scope was too broad.
- Finally, with reference to specific information about the named police defendants, Mr. Warr was to be given their full names, badge numbers, heights, weights, and work addresses. The judge limited this to officers Liberatore and Ferrigno.
To date, the city has refused to hand over any of the discovery granted by Judge Payson.
On May 1, 2013, Benny Warr was waiting for the bus in his wheelchair at the intersection of Bartlett St. and Jefferson Ave., near his home. As he was waiting for the bus, a Rochester police cruiser rolled up to the intersection and told people to move on. When they approached Mr. Warr, he responded by saying he was only waiting for the bus. According to Mr. Warr, the officers then maced him in the face and proceeded to throw him out of his chair where he was kicked, punched, and kneed by police while on the ground. He was put in handcuffs for nearly two hours until he received care at Strong Memorial Hospital for his injuries. He sustained broken and fractured ribs, numbness in his hands, neck injuries, internal injuries, and cuts on his wrists.
“Any documents that we can obtain from the city is a victory in itself. It's been a very long process,” said Mr. Burkwit. “On Benny Warr's case we've been fighting for about 11 months now to get documentation and we're not even done battling it out in court to get the documents. I think this is a good start.”
On January 13, Mr. Warr was asked what he thought about the outcome of the hearing: “I think that everything went well. God is with me. I don't know too much about the law but I think that it's working. I thank everybody who came for support and I just love each and everyone of them.”
Mr. Burkwit, after court on April 27, was hopeful: “It's been a long battle and we'll just continue plugging along and hopefully get the documentation we're entitled to.”
Watch video of Charles F. Burkwit, representing Benny Warr, and Benny Warr himself, respond after court on January 13, 2015:
Related: Press conference with Dwayne Ivery announcing his civil rights lawsuit against RPD & city | Exonerating police misconduct: no accountability in Benny Warr case | Professional Standards Section: How they work (at least on paper) | Edison Tech student athlete files civil rights lawsuit against police | Mr. Red's Civil Rights Complaint against RPD | Appendix to Mr. Redd's civil rights complaint against the RPD | Rally Denounces RPD Murder of Israel "Izzy" Andino! | Police reform group makes policy recs to city for body cameras | Exonerating police misconduct: no accountability in Benny Warr case | What rights? Police brutality in Rochester--a panel | Macnore “Damico” Cameron on the phone about his arrest in Ferguson, MO | Black Rose Anarchist Federation Statement and Video on #BlackLivesMatter Movement | URMC medical students participate in national action: #WhiteCoats4BlackLives | A walkthrough of Vonderrit Myers' killing | "The Whole Damn System is Guilty!" From Rochester to Ferguson -- a community report back | No Justice, No Peace--a response to the non-indictment of Darren Wilson | Black Lives Matter March & Rally @ UR: a response to the Ferguson grand jury decision | Ferguson Response Press Conference hosted by UCLM & CPR | Spontaneous protest in response to Wilson non-indictment
Ryan Conrad of Against Equality visited the Flying Squirrel Community Space on April 17 for the launching of his group's publication "Against Equality, Queer Revolution Not Mere Inclusion." The event was sponsored by the Black Rose Anarchist Federation. Conrad was not the author in the usual sense of the word. He acted as editor, putting together various articles, essays and manifestos on how the gay rights movement intersects with three social institutions. Those institutions are marriage, the military and prisons. All of the material is available online at the Collective's web site. The paper book was published as a benefit to people in prison where the internet is not available, or is heavily censored.
Perhaps the most shocking point is the title "Against Equality." Why would any LGBT rights group be against equality? This FAQ from the group's web site explains it clearly.
Why would you ever call yourselves Against Equality? It’s juvenile and stupid and you’re setting back the gay rights movement.
Equality, as defined by contemporary mainstream LGBT political organizations, is a meaningless term. If further entrenching special rights for certain couples when those rights should be extended to everyone, bolstering the U.S. war machine by providing more bodies for cannon fodder, and advocating for never-ending prison expansion as a legitimate way to address anti-queer/trans violence are part of your vision of an equitable future: we say “hell no!” By calling ourselves Against Equality, as out and loud queers, we hope to create a bit of productive confusion where one might ask, “Against Equality–but I thought they were homos…” which then begs the question: “well, what is equality?”
The event included video presentations by Against Equality Collective members Yasmin Nair and Karma Chavez. Afterwards Ryan Conrad answered questions from the audience.
Q and A
On April 10, 2015, the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform (CPR) invited Professional Standards Section (PSS) (the Rochester Police Department's internal affairs unit) to present on what they do and how they operate. Listen to the audio with notes above.
The presenters were Lieutenant Michael Callari, PSS Commanding Officer and Sergeant Robert Snow, PSS Investigating Sergeant.
Listening to the Lieutenant and the Sergeant, I was struck by the obvious deployment of public relations jujitsu and propaganda, where the PSS mission "...is to preserve the integrity and professionalism of the RPD." I did not hear "hold officers accountable," nor did I see any sign of meaningful transparency or justice. Ask either of these guys to talk to you about their "unbiased" investigations or about the integrity of their investigative process, and I'm sure they could have gone on for days. I did hear about certain New York State laws that make police disciplinary records inaccessible to the public because of confidentiality concerns and that if we wanted to change the system, it needed to be done legislatively, by us, not these same officers supposedly interested in justice, transparency, and truth.
When I raised two specific cases, Russell Davis and Benny Warr (see below), I was given evasive answers like, "We can't talk about specific cases," or "You don't know the whole story," which concluded for me that PSS has no interest in actually doing what they claim on the website (different from the mission): "...that official police misconduct will not be tolerated..." Further, all of PSS's findings are sent to the chief of police for final disciplinary action. He has the final say in any discipline, not PSS. The Civilian Review Board (CRB), administered by the Center for Dispute Settlement, works the same way. So, if you want to call justice the "accountability system" we have now, then it's no wonder that we have such a lack of meaningful justice.
Efficacy of the process
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Russell Davis, an African American man who was assaulted by police (immediately held at gun point by multiple officers; he was wrestled to the ground; he received a gash in his head; his handcuffs were too tight which caused bleeding; he was forced to sit in a car for 45 min. to an hour without medical attention) on August 5, 2006 outside his apartment complex on Dewey Avenue. He was then taken to the hospital where he was taunted by officers as he was receiving aid. He was not charged with a crime. Knowing misconduct had occurred, he attempted to use the CRB process and made a complaint at PSS. The PSS sergeant who investigated his complaint and subsequently found no basis for it was Sgt. Ronald Malley. He was the same officer who ordered that Mr. Davis be assaulted on that day in August. When I spoke with Mr. Davis on October 25, 2011, he said he was outraged, not only that his case was dismissed for “no basis,” but more specifically because Sgt. Malley, who ordered six to ten officers to assault him, refused to recuse himself from the case.
“How can you be involved with an assault on a civilian by the police and you is in charge of these police, and you turn around and investigate the incident?” he said in our video interview. “What kind of police department we got going on here in Rochester, New York?”
He found the CRB/PSS process “a waste of time.” He called the process “a hoax.” He also said that because of the assault, he “fears for his life” whenever he sees the police.
“What remedy do I have?” he asked, when trying to make sense of a system of “accountability” that failed him.
In Mr. Davis' case, it took about two years to get a ruling, which didn't find in his favor. (PSS assured us in their power point presentation that the final letter to the complainant goes out on or about day 162 in this process.) This was after he had heard nothing about his case and decided to call then-Chief of Police David Moore every couple of months for updates. Near the end of the interview, Mr. Davis made clear his demands: an independent civilian review board with subpoena power, that complaints not be investigated by law enforcement officers named in them, and that the federal government conduct an intensive review and investigation of the Rochester Police Department.
Another case of interest was that of Emily Good, who was arrested while video taping a racially motivated traffic stop from her front lawn with her ipod, by officer Mario Masic. Masic goes by the alias “Cowboy”—a name given to him by the community as a sign of danger—which he co-opted for his own use. Masic has worn the moniker proudly for years. To this day, he continues to terrorize civilians on the westside of the city.
A week after Ms. Good's video of the traffic stop and her arrest went viral on the internet, someone—and all indications point to the police or their allies, although there was no hard evidence—broke into her home, stole her money and the very ipod she used to film the traffic stop. Another roommate's possessions were rummaged through, but nothing was taken. No DVDs, CDs, electronics, computers, or anything else in plain sight was taken from the house. The kitchen door, in the back of the house, was bashed in; the frame of the door was cracked and broken.
Ms. Good refused to use the CRB and PSS processes because she felt that they were never meant to actually dispense meaningful justice. In a conversation I had with her on March 18, 2015, she texted, “I have no confidence in the process. The police get to make the ultimate decision about what happens. When police came to my house, [8 cars deep with an investigation van] I felt intimidated and didn't want them involved.” To date, there has been no comment or advancement on the “investigation” into who broke into Ms. Good's home.
Finally, there is the ongoing case of Benny Warr, a disabled, African American man who was thrown from his motorized wheelchair and subsequently beat by officers Joseph “Joey” Ferrigno, Anthony “Rock” Liberatore, and Sgt. Mitchell “Bigface” Stewart.
Mr Warr's lawyer, Charles F. Burkwit, advised him to go through with the PSS investigation—counsel was present—with the understanding that the findings would be turned over to the CRB. It took Mr. Burkwit a year to get the PSS findings (nearly 365 days) in which, the report used the narrative of the police as fact, independent eye-witnesses—including the videographer who taped the brutality—were never contacted, no in-depth second-by-second or minute-by-minute analysis of the police department's blue light surveillance camera footage was done, and contradictory statements made by the officers didn't seem to register with police investigators.
Finally, the city's attorney, Spencer Ash, went on the record in an affidavit dated November 7, 2014, saying that, “there was no Civilian Review Board review of this matter.”
In a phone conversation I had with Mr. Burkwit on March 17, 2015, he said, “I think the PSS does a very careful and calculated analysis of evidence. And if they choose to disregard or ignore evidence—I saw that in the case of Benny Warr, where certain important parts of evidence were not noted; especially, in my opinion, if you compare the blue light camera footage with the officers' sworn statements and testimony, there were plenty of inconsistencies.”
Regarding the CRB, Mr. Burkwit concluded, “Therefore, I think the Civilian Review Board cannot just rely on the Professional Standards Section findings as conclusive proof. The Civilian Review Board needs to conduct their own independent investigation. They need to review and scrutinize the investigative work the police have done and they need to decide whether the investigation was accurate or incorrect or if it was partially correct. The Civilian Review board needs to take a much closer look at these cases and not just rely upon the police department's findings.”
Sadly, the 1992 legislation that created the CRB explicitly denied it the investigatory powers called for by Mr. Burkwit.
Where do we go from here?
Right now, work is being done on multiple fronts. Enough Is Enough, an anti-police brutality organization, is putting together a database of police misconduct. They are also working on improving their Know Your Rights and Copwatch trainings. Enough Is Enough collects stories from people abused by the police in order to humanize and publicize the reality coming out of our community. The organization is always looking for motivated people to put time and effort into these projects.
The Rochester Coalition for Police Reform is currently developing its five-point Community Safety Agenda: 1) body cameras for the RPD (check out their Body Worn Camera policy recommendations for City Council), 2) an independent civilian review board with subpoena power and investigative authority, 3) anti-racism training for all officers at the police academy, 4) an end to racial profiling (Stop and Frisk), and 5) right to consent to search procedures where police must inform people of their rights before they act. The coalition is always looking for new partners and volunteers with the passion to make meaningful change.
Finally, there is legislative work that needs to get done. Those laws I alluded to above need to be rescinded and abolished for true community justice and transparency. These are the same institutions that we fund with our tax dollars. Also, in abdicating control over a police force that is given the authority to detain, arrest, and murder civilians, we need to have as much transparency as possible in order to remain vigilant to abuses of power. Those laws we need to rewrite or abolish are:
NYS Civil Rights Law 50–a provides that personnel records of police officers shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, or court order.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Locust Club police union, Article 20, Discipline.
NYS Civil Service Law, Sections 75 and 76.
No disciplinary proceedings shall be commenced more than eighteen (18) months after occurrence of the alleged incompetence or misconduct, except in those instances that would constitute a crime
Disciplinary records of police personnel are confidential.
It's time to start pushing back on legislation and procedures that protect those in power and the abusers of power. Hypocrisy isn't justice. Enough is enough.
Documents handed out from PSS on April 10, 2015: Professional Standards Section Documentation
Related: Rochester Businessman & Activist sues Rochester Police Department for sixth consecutive time | The Civilain Review Board Commission Recommendations Leave Out the Civilian | A rebuttal to the PSS investigation of allegations against officers from Benny Warr's lawyer | Chief Sheppard's statement regarding arrest video