Cadji Ferguson, who was controversially arrested last April for his alleged involvement in an Ithaca Commons fight, was acquitted of disorderly conduct by Tompkins County Judge Scott Millerthe, who cited lack of evidence in a bench trial.
A bench trial, commonly used in low-level offenses, is a procedure in which a judge will alone render a verdict in lieu of a jury.
Police claimed that on April 6, when the arrest took place, they witnessed Ferguson “run across the commons and strike another male subject in the face, knocking him to the ground,” from which the officers then “ran towards the fight and attempted to take Ferguson into custody,” according to a statement issued by Ithaca Police.
The bodycam footage of the police officers during the arrest was then released by Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 earlier this year, which shows police tasing Ferguson prior to arresting him.
Rose de Groat, another individual implicated in the altercation who will separately face trial on November 4, allegedly “attacked an officer from behind repeatedly striking him in the head,” before then striking “a second officer in the face before being taken into custody,” Ithaca Police said.
But despite the existence of a video recording, both law enforcement and the defendant offered highly divergent versions of Ferguson’s role in the incidence during Friday’s trial. Ferguson’s lawyer argued that his actions constituted reasonable self-defense against Joseph Ming, the “male subject” referenced in police reports, according to The Ithaca Voice. Ming was neither arrested nor extensively questioned for his role in the events.
The responding officer, for his part, characterized Ferguson’s punch as “haymaker,” in reference to its apparent power.
The case — which has become a local flashpoint in a larger national debate over racial profiling and law enforcement — has sparked anger among some in the Ithaca community, who have strenuously objected to the police’s version of events.
In a Facebook post published on August 29, an Ithaca chapter of Black Lives Matter instead said that Ferguson “was attacked during the April police brutality incident on the Commons,” calling the disorderly conduct charges the product of “racist policing.”
Since charges were initially filed against Ferguson and de Groat, the activist group, along with Showing Up for Racial Justice and Ithaca’s Multicultural Resource Center, has been highly active in organizing community support on the pair’s behalf, packing a Tompkins County courtroom last week in a hearing that would determine if de Groat would ultimately face trial for resisting arrest, The Sun previously reported.
Cornell Prof. Russell Rickford, history, attended that hearing, where he was seen holding a sign that read, “racist cops — henchmen of the capitalist order.”
“We will not back down! We will not let these bright young people be isolated, criminalized, and railroaded by a racist system!” the group wrote, imploring protestors to bring signs in support of Ferguson at the Friday hearing. “This is another opportunity to build our base and bring more people into the struggle!”
The decision to acquit Ferguson left his well-wishers ecstatic, and optimistic that de Groat’s trial, which will take place in November after de Groat rejected a plea deal offered by the prosecution, would be met with a similar outcome. Unlike Ferguson, de Groat faces a count of resisting arrest — a more serious felony.
“CADJI MALONE FOUND NOT GUILTY THIS MORNING!!!,” Showing Up for Racial Justice wrote on Facebook. “Amazing and important news, thanks to the power of grassroots organizing. We celebrate with Cadji and continue to support and show up for Rose!!!”