POUGHKEEPSIE – Last Monday night’s meeting of the Poughkeepsie Common Council drew a capacity crowd amidst the controversy over a video that depicts a city police officer forcing a young girl to the ground in the midst of a melee involving 15 to 20 youths on Monday, March 11.
The entire situation lasted approximately 15 minutes, according to Police Chief Thomas Pape and the video showing the officer taking the student down lasts some 17 seconds. The incident occurred near the intersection of Hammersley Avenue and Church Street.
The interaction between the officer and the student has led to the officer being placed on modified duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Prior to the start of the routine council meeting, the semi-annual information meeting was held in which the police department command staff and the city administrator listen to the questions posed by the public and then responded after the public comment segment is over.
City resident Carmen McGill was first to speak and said of the police department “there is no caring, there’s no empathy, there’s no sympathy. The first level of activity from what I can gather is that of animosity, adversity, being the enemy, and don’t even know what the whole situation is.”
McGill said “teenagers have always been challenging” and that officers need to learn how to handle situations like that.
The hearing also drew people from other communities including Town of Poughkeepsie resident Elizabeth Armstrong who said in her town, “a white child would never have been treated like this.”
Longtime community activist Mae Parker-Harris attributed the behavior of the city’s youth to the amount of garbage on the streets saying “if you play in dirt, you’re going to get dirty.”
She also asked adults to remind people to pull their pants up, which she does every time she sees a person with their pants hanging below their rear-ends saying “pull your pants up!”
The input continued for over an hour with the chief being peppered with questions about the recent procedural justice training and requests for updates on the internal investigation into the actions of the officer accused of slamming the teenage girl to the ground as it has been interpreted in the video.
When Chief Pape was given the opportunity, he told of how all sworn officers in his department finished the procedural justice training in December and the implicit bias training is scheduled to be completed by the third quarter of 2019. With regard to the internal investigation triggered by the viral video, Pape said “as soon as I saw this video I instructed a member of the command staff and our detective lieutenant to start an investigation regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding this video.”
The chief said the investigation is moving at a rapid pace.
Pape renewed his requests for witnesses to come forward if they have information. He said they have collected eight sworn statements from independent witnesses to date and they have collected several additional videos of the incident which appear to have multiple different fights taking place at the time of the seventeen-second video and alluded to that fact that additional arrests are possible.
During the public comment segment, the police command staff was asked about the School Resource Officer program and Pape said “We don’t have SRO’s because we can’t agree with the school district.” Council Chairwoman Ann Finney asked about the arrests of the 15-year-old and her 12-year-old sister at the Monday fight to which the chief said there a few things that limit what can be said, not only because the two involved are juveniles but because it’s an ongoing investigation as well.
“There was a police response unfolding and that police response was interfered with and that’s how we ended up where we are today.”
A question on how complaints are filed against the police department was posed by Councilwoman Flowers and the chief listed the locations were the complaint forms could be picked up including the police department, chamberlain’s office, and the mayor’s office. Pape also noted that his department handles approximately 37,000 calls for help each year and makes, on average 1,400-1,500 arrests per year and said “we have a lot of police-community interactions.”