NAACP calls for police reforms at Schenectady City Hall

WNYT Staff
Updated: July 12, 2020 03:03 PM
Created: July 11, 2020 10:24 PM

Schenectady’s Police Chief says he expected to have an internal report on his desk next week after the controversial arrest of a city man by an officer using a knee to the head. The Department investigation parallels another investigation by the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office.  DA Robert Carney will determine whether the use of force was justified in the July 6th arrest of a 31-year-old city man.

The case brought members of the NAACP to the steps of City Hall Saturday at noon.

Dr. Odo Butler is the president of the Schenectady chapter of the NAACP.  “The NAACP stands against the use of excessive force and tactics that cause extreme physical harm or death by the Schenectady Police Department and all Law enforcement. We demand all citizens be treated equally regardless of their race or ethnicity."

Cynthia Farmer is the Chair of the Schenectady NAACP Education Committee.  She stated, “Create more positive police involvement in the community by having police mentoring programs."

They and roughly two dozen others were on hand addressing changes they demanded in SPD policies relating the NAACP members say to people of color.

On Monday July 6, 2020, cell phone video from Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud’s father emerged and police body camera footage was later released in the incident on North Brandwine Avenue involving Schenectady Police Officer Brian Pommer and Gindarpersaud, known as “Chris Persaud” to friends and family. Gaindarpersaud was identified by a neighbor as the suspect in a car tire slashing that was reportedly caught on home surveillance.  Gaindarpersaud admits he has a long standing dispute with the neighbor over a fence.  When Officer Brian Pommer tries to detain Gainderpersaud for further investigation while interviewing him, video appears to show Gindarpersaud took off running towards the backyard of his home.  Minutes later the Officer and Gaindarpersaud were on the ground struggling and video of the incident appears to show Patrolman Pommer’s knee on his head and several punches to Gaindarpersaud as the officer waits for backup to arrive.  A press release from the Chief of Police Eric Clifford said Pommer had lost his radio in the pursuit and had asked a nearby witness to call police.

Here's what Gaindarpersaud told Jill Konopka on Friday when asked if he slashed the tires of his next door neighbor's? Gaindarpersaud responded, “No.” Jill Konopka asked, “Is there security camera footage that shows you slashing tires? That's what we want to see. We need to see the video.  They charged me with resisting arrest but I need the evidence."  Reporter Jill Konopka followed up, “The police said you were not cooperating?” Gaindarpersaud responded, “Nope, that's a lie.”  Reporter Jill Konopka asked, “Did you run away?  Gaindarpersaud stated, “I actually didn't run away. I didn't run away but was trying to go into my back yard to get my parents."

At Saturday’s event, City Council Woman Marion Porterfield spoke at the podium as well,” What the NAACP would like to see is more police reform."

City leaders announced a department ban on knee holds to a suspect’s head and or neck and a citizens’ review board, weeks after Schenectady Officers including Chief Eric Clifford took a knee with protestors after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Custody last May.

Pastor Nicholle D. Harris stated, "It did my heart good. I even did a little bragging, told them that's the place I'm pastoring now, that's Schenectady NY!"

To this week’s incident, prompting reaction from faith based leaders and others.

Pastor Harris added, "Then July 6th when I turned the TV on in New Jersey to see same city made national news because police used his knee to restrain someone."

Chief Eric Clifford says he came to listen and that he’ll bring back the messages from today to his officers.

NAACP President Dr. Butler added, “As far as the police officer is concerned, I'm not gunna’ speak on where he should be. I can tell you what he did was wrong and we're blessed he didn't take that young man's life."

SPD Chief Eric Clifford stated Saturday afternoon, “I support and am proud of my officers every day.  But there were some things that day that made me proud and some things that didn't make me proud. These are the things that will be given to the officers directly first.” Adding, “The officer at the time was acting on information that was given to him by the complainant. “

Attorney Derek Andrews represents Gaindarpersaud, “Here's the key it has to be an authorized arrest. So here's what we're going to be looking into is whether or not police officer Pommer's actions the morning of July 6th were authorized. It's also great that policy changes have been enacted. I think there needs to be a better focus on training to deescalate situations. That they were making sure that their use of force had at least six steps in escalation of use of force. What I want to see is a better focus on de-escalation but I want to ensure what happened to my client doesn't happen again.”

Attorney Andrews added, “This paints a picture that is just brutal and senseless in my mind. This was an attack and still engaged in the investigation and I think there is much more context that we do need to figure out as to what the investigation looked like police officer Pommer and perhaps any other affiliated officers with respect to the tires being slashed we just need to know more at this point. Why he was there. What he did know, beyond what was seen.  The big ticket item is getting an entire copy of the SPD manual.

Police Chief Eric Clifford also spoke with Reporter Jill Konopka on Friday.

Chief Clifford stated, “We’ve never engaged in the practice of putting the knee to the neck but what we used to have the corrugated choke hold in our policy but when the Governor’s Executive Orders and the Mayor’s Executive Orders came out we took that away. The knee to the head; it was in our policy it was ok to do that it was always a hand to the head and knee substituted so it wasn’t against policy but now it is.  We made it very clear not to put your knee on the neck above we didn’t foresee the situation where there would be a one on one resisting arrest situation where potentially officer had to substitute his knee for his hand but now we see it clearly that there’s a close parallel we recognize that and that’s why we decided to make the change.”

Jill Konopka asked the Chief, they (the suspect and his family) want him (Officer Pommer) terminated ? Chief Clifford Responded, “Well we have not even reviewed the internal affairs report to even come to that conclusion but I’m not going to comment on that now.”

Here's the list of changes announced by the City of Schenectady Mayor’s Office:

The following changes will be implemented effective immediately:

  • The Schenectady Police Department policy will be updated to prohibit the use of a knee to a person’s head or neck as a control hold. 
  • The Use of Force continuum, that include at least 6 levels of steps, with clear rules on escalation, will be returned to the departments Use of Force Policy and immediately trained as a component of further de-escalation training.
  • All warrantless arrests will be approved by patrol supervisors, who will be on scene to supervise all custodial arrests to assure that any force used is in compliance of departmental policy and local, state, and federal laws.
  • The department will immediately seek the removal of police certification for any officer that is determined to use deadly physical force that is unwarranted by federal guidelines.
  • The department will immediately begin discussions with the Civilian Police Review Board to explore changes that will serve to build public confidence.  The department will support the agreed upon changes and request that the Schenectady City Council adopt them immediately.

Chief Clifford explained the procedure of the internal investigation, specifically the Office of Professional Standards.  They will decide whether there could be any charges against the officer. Once Chief Clifford signs off on them, he has a 15-day window to get the recommendation to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens.  Clifford adding, “Getting the cart in front of the horse right now, this is with the assumption, and I hate to make assumptions, this is with the assumption there will be charges.”

DIGITAL EXTRA: Schenectady Police Chief Interview

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