August 25, 2014

Police: Teens Followed Due to Suspicions of Committing Arson

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Just weeks after an Ithaca police sergeant pointed his gun at unarmed, black teenagers, an internal review that concluded Monday revealed additional details about the events that transpired over the course of an evening earlier this month.

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and Police Chief John Barber promised on Aug. 15 that the actions of the sergeant, who has been revealed as Sgt. John Norman, would be investigated. At the conclusion of the internal review, it was found Norman’s decision to pull his weapon on the teenagers was justified.

Previously it was reported that the officer pointed his weapon at four teenagers, when in fact there were only two teenagers. This mistake was reported by multiple news outlets due to a misinterpretation of a police statement, which police later clarified.

Discussion over 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, on Aug. 9.

Norman’s decision to pull a gun on two 15-year-old teenagers on Aug. 10 came during what Ithaca police described as an “unusual wave of serious criminal activity” that took place between the late evening of Aug. 9 and early Aug. 10.

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 on Aug. 9, 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.

Lt. Scott Garin, the shift commander on duty, then contacted Norman for backup in investigating the string of crimes, police said in a report released Monday. Norman then drove his personal vehicle to the scene of the crime while out of uniform.An “unusual wave of ­serious criminal activity” took place between the late evening of Aug. 9 and early Aug. 10, police say.

Around 12:20 a.m. on Aug. 10, Garin was scouting the area near the arson cases when he noticed three individuals on bicycles, according to Monday’s police report. Police then followed the individuals because, according to the report, “arson suspects tend to loiter or return to the scene of fires they have set.

Norman and another officer then saw the bicyclists near Esty Street and told other officers on the radio of the teenagers location, according to the report.

The teenagers were then followed by two officers in marked vehicles as well as Norman, who let the other vehicles take the lead because he was in his unmarked, personal vehicle, police said.

One of the officers then turned on his emergency lights when he said on the radio that the bicyclists were “taking off” as they began to pedal faster. One of the bicyclists, at this point, stopped while the other two individuals continued towards West State Street, according to police.

After Norman told the two remaining bicyclists to stop, they dismounted their bicycles and began to run. The sergeant repeated his orders for them to stop 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.