LONSBERRY: Questions About Police-Beating Video

posted by Bob Lonsberry - 

I haven't seen the video, but I've heard from those who have.

And it's apparently bad.

Not only do the two Rochester police officers taze and beat Christopher Pate, but apparently later, at the hospital, one or both of them mock his inability to speak clearly with a broken jaw.

It was insult on top of injury.

Most people have heard the story by now. Two Rochester cops in an umarked car are searching for a guy whose picture was on the bulletin board in the Section office. Tall, thin black guy with dreads and a high forehead.

And there was Christopher Pate, walking along the street -- tall, thin, black, with dreads and a high forehead.

Things went poorly from there.

Pate showed his ID, which proved he wasn't the guy, but he wasn't much for sticking around. Though he didn't quite articulate it this way, he seems to have had some notions about the Fourth Amendment and probable cause, and the right of a citizen to walk down the street without the interference of government or its agents. 

What happened next is on the camera. The police body camera. The anti-cop activist said they needed cameras for when the cops didn't tell the truth and the anti-cop activist said Christopher Pate had gotten beat down, and I figured he was full of crap.

Because cops wouldn't do that.

Nobody would do that.

That's what I believe.

But that's not what the camera shows.

Though specifics won't begin to filter out until Thursday mid-morning, people who have seen the video, and have backgrounds in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, describe it as very bad, and undeniably criminal.

Which is where questions arise for me -- not that these officers broke the law, I recognize that it's quite likely they did. Rather, I'm curious about how this incident was handled by the police department and City Hall, and whether there was foot dragging or manipulation of the process.

I don't allege those things, but I do wonder about them.

First, the timing.

Christopher Pate had his run in with officers Spencer McEvoy and Michael Sippel on May 5. Within a week, Pate or a representative had filed a complaint with the police department. The damaging evidence -- the police body-camera video -- was in the possession of the police department from the beginning.

People who've seen the video -- like the police chief and the mayor -- say that it clearly shows a crime being committed against Christopher Pate.

At some point -- "a month ago," the chief said yesterday -- the video was shown to the top brass of the police department.

The first the district attorney heard about the alleged assault was when she was contacted in the first week of August by the Rev. Lewis Stewart, who at the same time held a press conference describing the incident and demanding that it be looked into. The district attorney asked the police chief about the incident and he told her that he had also been contacted by Stewart.

That is true, but if that's all he told her, it's so incomplete as to not really be the truth.

The police chief was indeed contacted by the activist, but the chief had -- based on what he said -- already seen video of the incident. And his department having at that point been reviewing the matter for almost three months, it seems clear that he would have know inside and out about the incident.

And yet he didn't tell the district attorney there was a problem until this Sunday, more than two weeks after her inquiry. Then, on Monday, he forwarded to her the video and associated materials -- he made a criminal referral. The district attorney reviewed the video and materials with her senior staff on Tuesday.

It seems odd that the district attorney would have been kept in the dark, and that the chief would have blown off her initial inquiry about the matter.

It also seems odd that such a potentially incendiary incident -- captured on police body-camera video -- would lie fallow for almost four months, and that the police department didn't even say anything about it when the victim and Lewis Stewart made it public.

It also seems odd that if the video is so incriminating, if it seems to show a crime being committed, that neither the chief nor the department arrested the officers involved. Any New York police officer has a duty to act if he sees evidence of a crime being committed -- even if he's an internal affairs officer, even if he's a chief of police.

So why didn't the police department arrest one or both of these cops two or three or four months ago?

And why even now has it tossed the responsibility to the district attorney?

If a civilian beats somebody, breaking his jaw and the orbit of his eye, the police will arrest that civilian right now -- as they should.

How is it that a police officer can beat somebody, breaking his jaw and the orbit of his eye, and going on four months later the police haven't arrested him?

And why is it that the internal supervisory investigation -- looking into workplace misconduct -- was done before an actual criminal charging and prosecution began? Is the relationship of a police officer to his department paramount to the his relationship with the laws that are supposed to govern everyone in society?

The delay doesn't make sense.

And the delay becomes troubling when, after almost four months, the mayor and the police chief make this announcement just days before City Council is to take up legislation establishing a civilian control board for the police department. One wonders if this matter was held up and then revealed when it was revealed in order to provide public pressure to pass a proposal the mayor supports.

If the police can investigate a civilian-accused beating and have somebody in handcuffs before shift change, how it is that an investigation of an officer-accused beating -- with official police video of it -- takes weeks and months?

That needs to be explained. Moreover, it needs to be changed. Because it is unacceptable. If internal investigations take that long, maybe you need to get new investigators.

And, when did the mayor find out about the matter, and when did she see the video? Because either the police department kept it from her, or she kept it from the public. And either option is no good.

It seems quite likely one or both of the officers did something very bad, and probably criminal.

But it also seems possible that the manner and length of time in which the police department and mayor's office handled this issue are problematic as well. 

This isn't transparency or openness.

And a lack of those things will do as much damage to police-community relations as rogue cops.

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