August 15, 2014

Ithaca Police Sergeant Pulls Gun on Unarmed, Minority Teens

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By TYLER ALICEA

Clarification appended

For a more updated version of this story, click here.

An Ithaca police sergeant pulled a gun on unarmed, minority teenagers last weekend, an action that Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 promises will be investigated.

The officer’s actions come at a time when community-police relations are strained nationally — just days after an unarmed black teenager was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last Saturday.

Both the mayor and Police Chief John Barber said in statements Friday that it is too soon to tell if any IPD officers were at fault and urge the community to not rush to decisions. Mayor Myrick emphasized, however, that he takes the concerns “of the affected extremely seriously.”“As a mayor, I’m motivated to ensure that every citizen of Ithaca feels that the Police Department is there to protect and serve them. As a black man I’m well aware of the history of violence between the police and young men of color — see most recently the tragedy in Ferguson, [Missouri] — and motivated to ensure that this pattern does not play out in our City.” — Mayor Svante Myrick ’09

Still, Ithacans and families of the teens decried the decision made by the Ithaca police sergeant, who has not been identified by police as of Friday evening.

Wave of Crime

The sergeant’s decision to pull a gun on 15-year-old teenagers came during what Ithaca police described as an “unusual wave of serious criminal activity” that took place Saturday evening.

Police officers responded to the scene of two vehicle arsons — one on the 400 block of North Albany Street and another on the 400 block of North Geneva Street — that occurred within 30 minutes of each other late Saturday evening, according to police.

Shortly after, multiple police officers were diverted from one of the arson investigations after a report that a man — who was later arrested — was burglarizing a home on the 400 block North Cayuga Street.

Four Bicyclists

Meanwhile, a group of patrol officers noticed a group of bicycle riders near where the arsons occurred. The officers asked the individuals to stop “for the purpose of ascertaining their identity, and to inquire if they had any information related to the recent criminal activity,” according to police.

A sergeant — who was called to assist the arson investigations — was driving his personal vehicle when he saw the four bicycle riders and requested “marked patrol vehicles” to respond, authorities said.

The sergeant, whose name has not been released, followed the individuals. Once backup arrived, the group of individuals dismounted their bicycles and began to run towards the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and South Plain Street.

The sergeant then told them to stop.

When they continued to run, according to police, the sergeant repeated his orders and exited his vehicle, according to police.

The group of individuals then began to walk towards the sergeant, who then removed his gun and “kept it pointed in a safe direction as he gave verbal commands to the subjects to lie on the

ground,” according to authorities.

Other police officers then arrived on the scene, where the subjects were identified and turned over to their parents, according to police.

‘Positive and Productive’ Meeting

The mayor met with the parents of those affected along with Barber and Alderperson JR Clairborne (D-2nd), as well as Marcia Fort and Travis Brooks from the Greater Ithaca Activities Center on Wednesday.

During this meeting, the parents of the teenagers said they were concerned that the officer drew his weapon, was out of uniform and in an unmarked car and that the officer was white and that the teenagers were of color, according to Myrick.

In a statement, the mayor described the meeting as “positive and productive.”

“[The parents] also posed some good questions. Questions that need answers,” Myrick said. “And in important ways, their version of events differed from the version the officers have shared.”

He added that he is taking the concerns of those affected “extremely seriously.”

“As a mayor I’m motivated to ensure that every citizen of Ithaca feels that the Police Department is there to protect and serve them,” Myrick said. “As a black man I’m well aware of the history of violence between the police and young men of color — see most recently the tragedy in Ferguson, [Missouri] — and motivated to ensure that this pattern does not play out in our City.”

Investigations will be conducted by the Christopher Townsend, deputy chief of professional standards, while a second, parallel investigation will be conducted by the Ithaca Community Police Board, according to Myrick.

Clarification: A previous version of this story said that the officer pulled his weapon out on four teenagers, when in fact there were only two teenagers. This error is the result of a misinterpretation of an Ithaca Police Department press release, which was misinterpreted by multiple news organizations. Since then, the IPD has clarified the number of  teenagers.

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