Tompkins County Judge John C. Rowley dismissed charges against Ithaca resident Rose de Groat, cutting her indictment in a decision on Friday. The Ithaca Police Department officers “overreacted,” Rowley wrote, ending a case that brought national conversations around police conduct and racism to Ithaca.
His decision, embedded below, cited discrepancies in the officers’ testimony and body camera footage from the April arrest during which police say that de Groat punched an officer and scratched another on his face as they tried to detain her and another resident, Cadji Ferguson. The judge also posited that de Groat would not have needed to get involved at all if police had acted differently.
“In the Court’s view, Ms. DeGroat reacted instinctively to protect Mr. Ferguson in this fast moving and bewildering situation,” Crowley wrote in his decision. “If not for the regrettable actions of the police, she likely would not have intervened.”
An internal investigation of the officers’ conduct concluded that the police officers had not breached policy, Police Chief Dennis Nayor said in July. De Groat and Ferguson’s futures remained in limbo for much longer.
Court documents filed by de Groat’s attorney, Edward Kopko, and District Attorney Matthew Van Houten show that since April, charges have slid back and forth. De Groat was originally charged with two felony counts of attempted assault in the second degree and a misdemeanor charge for resisting arrest.
Within a week of the arrest, Van Houten’s office recommended reducing de Groat’s charges in a letter addressed to Judge Scott Miller of the Ithaca City Court, according to documents in Kopko’s omnibus motion. The D.A.’s office stated in the letter they “prefer not to prosecute this case at a felony level.”
A month later, the grand jury ruling came out, and it was not the reduced charges that de Groat and her team were expecting. Instead, de Groat was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, and a trial date was set for November.
Over the summer, Van Houten proposed setting up mediation to work towards preventing a permanent record for de Groat. In July, Van Houten and Kopko seemed close to a plea agreement — so close that mediation dates were proposed by both parties. Ultimately, though, Van Houten rescinded the offer, criticizing Kopko for violating the terms by disclosing the mediation to the media. Kopko, in turn, accused Van Houten of violating the terms first.
On Sept. 20, de Groat told The Sun at a “die-in” protest in favor of dropping the charges against her that she was not very hopeful about her case’s outcome.
“I do not really feel optimistic because of the way the D.A. has reacted, and redacted all of the offers and statements he has made,” she said.
On Aug. 26, de Groat’s attorney, Kopko, asked the court to stem the charges in an omnibus motion, arguing that all charges should be dismissed due to the terms agreed on in the mediation agreement, applicable due to “specific performance.”
According to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, specific performance is a “contractual remedy in which the court orders a party to actually perform its promise as closely as possible, because monetary damages are somehow inadequate to fix the harm.”
In this case, during the discussions on the mediation agreement, Van Houten sent a letter to Kopko proposing to “dismiss the indictment in its entirety and unconditionally.” Kopko argued that even though there was no final agreement, charges should be dropped because of this initial proposal.
[Read The Sun’s reporting on the April 6 incident here.]
The case has caught and kept the attention of the Ithaca community since the arrests were first made due to concerns of police brutality and systemic racism.
Black Lives Matter Ithaca, Showing Up for Racial Justice and Ithaca’s Multicultural Resource Center, have been highly active in organizing community support for the two residents, packing the Tompkins County courtroom, staging a “die-in” and hosting multiple rallies in support. Cadji Ferguson was found not guilty of disorderly conduct due to lack of evidence on Sept. 2.
“Finally, and thankfully, Judge Rowley had the courage to put an end to this racial injustice,” Kopko told The Sun. Neither the D.A. nor deputy D.A. was available for comment at the time of publication.