Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 faces criticism for his decision to release the arrest footage.

May 5, 2019

Police Union Criticizes Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 Disclosure of Body Camera Videos from Commons Altercation

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An Ithaca police union said Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 decision to share footage from an April arrest on the Commons was “intentionally misrepresenting an incident” and “improper” in a Facebook post on Saturday.

The release of the videos came after community pressure for transparency and accusations of racial bias of the Ithaca Police Department following the arrest last month. When Myrick shared the videos, he said that there is an ongoing investigation.

“Svante’s actions were not characteristic of traditional internal investigations and have compromised the integrity of that process moving forward,” the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association — Ithaca Police’s union — wrote, saying that the “supposed investigation” could be tainted by his decision.

“I have no idea what the PBA was implying with ‘supposed,’” Myrick told The Sun. “It is an internal investigation that I ordered last month. It is being conducted by a lieutenant and overseen by the Chiefs – per standard procedure.”

In 2014, Myrick ordered a police investigation after a non-uniformed sergeant pulled his gun on four teenagers. At the time, the Deputy Police Chief and the Community Police Board conducted two separate investigations into the incident.

The IPD and CPB did not respond to requests for comment by The Sun.

The dispute is the latest public episode in a series of wide-ranging online critiques following an April 6 altercation in the Commons early on a Saturday that resulted in the arrest of a young black man and woman.

Since then, the police department has been criticized for exhibiting a “pattern of abuse and disrespect of people of color.” Last week, local advocacy groups including Black Lives Matter Ithaca and the Multicultural Resource Center wrote online letters and organized a rally.

Three days later, Myrick shared a Facebook post linking 10 videos, including footage from the Commons and from individual officers’ body cameras. The footage included the arrests themselves and conversations with fellow officers, spectators and other involved individuals afterwards. The videos were lightly redacted for “privacy,” according to Myrick’s post.

The mayor said that he had reviewed the footage “immediately after the incident,” and then subsequently ordered an internal investigation.

Disclosure of body camera footage has faced contention in New York before.

In February, a state appeals court ruled that body camera footage is subject to public disclosure, ruling against the New York City police union’s assertion that body camera footage was a personnel record, which can be kept secret under state law.

The IPBA post — which represents the views of the “ENTIRE IPBA,” the group told The Sun in a message — accused the Mayor of acting for political gain, and for putting “public safety last.” The group also used the incident to advocate again for higher wages.

The labor union characterized the incident on the Commons as one in which officers were “attacked,” and said that the individuals in the videos “resisted the verbal direction and efforts” of officers on the scene.

The videos can be viewed here. Seven of the videos are from officers’ body cameras.

The footage details the chaotic arrest of Cadji Ferguson, of Ithaca, and Rose Degroat, of Ithaca, as well as the detention and interview of others at the scene. The videos themselves were cited in the reduction of charges for Degroat.

District Attorney Matthew Van Houten previously said that he reduced charges for Degroat on Wednesday after watching the footage. Degroat was initially charged with two counts of attempted assault, which were reduced to one count of disorderly conduct and two counts of obstructing governmental administration.

“In this case, specifically because of the allegations that were made, I reviewed all the video evidence very carefully — every minute of it — and I determined that the appropriate charges were misdemeanor-level obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest as opposed to the original charges that were felony-level attempted assault charges,” Van Houten told the Ithaca Voice on Wednesday.

In one video, taken after the arrests as an officer talked to a woman on the scene, he called body cameras the “greatest thing” that has happened for law enforcement.