October 7, 2010

Ithaca Police Brutality Case Heads to Federal Court

Print More

Ithaca native Amy Crockford’s police abuse and discrimination case against the Ithaca Police Department has been moved to the U.S. Federal District Court in Syracuse, based on a motion by the City of Ithaca.

According to Crockford, the Nov. 30 date for the trial will only mark the beginning of a long legal road against IPD Officers Stephen Moracco and Jason Lansing.

“I would like people to know that if there is an incident with an officer, that officers are just people,” Crockford said about the case. “There are some that abuse their power.”

The alleged abuse of power occurred in the early morning on May 31, 2009, when Moracco placed Crockford under arrest for disorderly conduct near the State Street Diner.

Once she was in the back of the police vehicle, Moracco made several intentional sudden stops to the vehicle, according to Crockford, causing her to fly forward into the plexiglass divider between the front and rear seats.

Crockford also claims that Moracco taunted her for her sexual orientation. Crockford said that Moracco told her to, “Shut the fuck up, you fat dyke,” while she was in the back of the vehicle.

Crockford said that the abuses continued after she arrived at the police station. As police performed a requisite body search, Crockford said that she requested a female officer to perform the search, to which Moracco joked, “She would.” Crockford said Lansing went on to jokingly ask nearby female officers to perform the search.

The City of Ithaca, however, disagrees with all of Crockford’s accusations. City Attorney Dan Hoffman said that the position of the city’s hired attorney is that “Amy Crockford’s claims are completely invalid.”

Crockford said that District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson told her that she initially planned to file criminal charges against the officers.  However, several months later Wilkinson declined to present evidence in the case to a grand jury. Crockford said that Wilkinson has a personal bias towards the police officers involved and Wilkinson should therefore recuse herself from the case. Wilkinson is currently fighting in court Crockford’s motion to appoint a special prosecutor.

About six months after the initial charges, the police department surveillance video of the night of Crockford’s arrest was released. The video allegedly shows Moracco mimicking the motions of Crockford smashing into the plexiglass divider in the police car, entertaining a visibly amused Lansing.

“When I first saw the video, I burst into tears,” Crockford said.

Lansing resigned from the IPD earlier this year after FBI investigators found he bought extensive amounts of hydrocodone from an old college baseball teammate and convicted narcotics dealer. Lansing later admitted that he had developed a hydrocodone addiction while a police officer, taking extensive leave time to deal with withdrawal symptoms, according to documents obtained by The Ithaca Journal.

Lansing’s legal troubles have also caused problems for his father, Ken Lansing, who is running for Tompkins County Sheriff this fall.

The City of Ithaca has largely tried to stay out of Crockford’s legal proceedings. Alderperson Jennifer Dotson (I-1st Ward) said that the she sympathizes with the community’s concern about the case, but said that the Common Council will not involve itself much with the case.

“Our community and the Common Council are very concerned about these issues, but it’s a personnel issue so we have no formal plans,” Dotson said.

Ithacans’ concerns with the police department, however, may extend beyond Crockford’s accusations. Incidents of locals clashing with police officers, both on and off duty, have attracted wide attention since the shooting of Ithaca native Shawn Greenwood, who was sought in a drug investigation, by IPD Officer Bryan Bangs in February.

The shooting sparked cries of racial profiling from the community in everything from Youtube tribute videos to a community forum. An unknown arsonist burned down Bangs’ house on July 10, just days after a Tompkins County grand jury exonerated Bangs from any wrongdoing.

Additionally, Lansing himself was involved in an altercation with Joshua DeJesus on the Commons last June, a week after the Crockford incident. DeJesus reportedly assaulted Lansing — who was off-duty at the time and reportedly had a blood-alcohol content of 0.26 — because Lansing broke up a fight that had occurred outside the State Street Diner the previous week, according to The Ithaca Journal. DeJesus later pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment.

Community frustration with the IPD has perhaps manifested itself with support for Crockford.

“I have not had a single person say anything negative to me,” Crockford said. “Several officers have approached me and have supported me in this. People have been very supportive.”

Brendan Doyle contributed reporting to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained several errors. First, the story incorrectly stated that Alderperson Jennifer Dotson (I-1st Ward) said she sympathized with Amy Crockford’s complaint. In fact, Dotson said she sympathized with the community’s concern over the case. Second, the story incorrectly identified the police officer who Crockford alleges remarked “she would” in response to her request to be searched by a female officer. In fact, Crockford said it was Officer Jason Moracco. Third, the story incorrectly states that District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson has recused herself from the case. In fact, Wilkinson has not recused herself from the case, and is fighting Crockford’s motion to appoint a special prosecutor. Crockford alleges that Wilkinson declined to bring criminal charges against the police department because Wilkinson has a personal bias towards the police.

Original Author: Dan Robbins