March 9, 2010

Ithacans Voice Concern Over Police Shooting

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Emotions ran high as several hundred Ithacan residents packed into the Southside Community Center last night to express concern and outrage about the shooting of Shawn Greenwood.

Greenwood was killed by Ithaca Police Sgt. Bryan Bangs after hitting another officer with his minivan during a potential narcotics bust two weeks ago. Community members questioned the ethics of several IPD officers and the handling of the incident’s investigation.

Greenwood then drove onto a curb and hit a Dryden police officer. The other officers yelled at Greenwood to stop driving, but he continued and Bangs fired several shots that killed the 29-year-old man.

Wilkinson attended the forum along with Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson and Chief of Ithaca Police Department Edward Vallely.

Several people questioned Bangs’ participation in the case because he allegedly had an ongoing feud with Greenwood. The two attended high school together and had a history of animosity, according to many community members who spoke at the forum.

Wilkinson said the investigation would look into the allegation. Bangs is currently on administrative leave while the claims are investigated.

“How the operation was designed and carried out will be the subject of intense scrutiny,” she said.

Ithaca residents also asked why officers stopped Greenwood outside Pete’s, a grocery store close to a school, and not at his home or at a meeting with his parole officer. Wilkinson responded that the police intervened when they thought evidence might be present.

The crowd nonetheless continued to express its anger with the incident. One man shouted that Greenwood had been murdered and the auditorium erupted into cheers. Residents inquired why the officers had not shot Greenwood’s tires instead of shooting at him. They accused several IPD officers of police brutality and cited past police problems in the Jungle, a narrow tract of land near the Cayuga Lake inlet that houses Ithaca’s homeless and is populated primarily by black individuals.

Lyon Spears, an Ithaca resident, claimed several IPD officers were “separatists” who continually harassed community members and put “insensitive” bumper stickers on their cars.

“This is the culmination of animosity that has been going on for years,” Spears said. “We fear what will happen if we are subject to unreasonable search and seizure and don’t succumb to the badge.”

Wilkinson said that the IPD was not currently under internal investigation, but requested that residents come forward with any information regarding the shooting or other unlawful police activity. IPD Chief Vallely emphasized that all Ithaca Police officers had participated in talking circles to address race issues and other sensitive problems.

Wilkinson and Vallely also emphasized that evidence was still being collected and many questions about the narcotics investigation are under examination. Wilkinson said they hope security video from Pete’s Grocery will answer many of the inquiries.

Wilkinson was originally heading the investigation, but has since stepped down because she has represented and worked extensively with the IPD.

“My first reaction was I can do it — I’ve prosecuted police officers before,” she said. “But we’ve got to try to move forward, and if my presence at the head of this investigation is going to make anybody think it is not legitimate and impartial, then it doesn’t matter what I think.”

She stressed that she did not yield the case to  Chemung Country District Attorney Weeden Wetmore  to hide incriminating evidence about Sgt. Bangs. The investigation, she said, had just begun.

Many who attended the forum nonetheless wanted immediate explanations for the police’s actions and the actions of the narcotics task force.

“When we can expect to get answers?” one woman asked. “The police feel like there are no consequences for their actions and it’s just a good old boys club.”

The auditorium burst into applause when one person asked why the narcotics task force had not been as aggressive in issuing narcotics-related search warrants for Cornell students.

The investigation, however, will likely not release findings for months.

“We just have to remember that the safety of the community is of the utmost importance,” Mayor Carolyn Peterson said. “I hope we can find some places we can stand together on this and reach some answers.”

Original Author: Dan Robbins