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Albany Officer Arrested For Assault, Two Others Suspended

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins speaks with reporters Tuesday.
Dave Lucas

An Albany police officer has been charged with physical assault for his actions while responding to a house party on First Street in March.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Chief Eric Hawkins addressed reporters Tuesday afternoon.

On March 16th, fifth-year officer Luke Deer and other officers responded to a 4 a.m. call for reports of a loud party an address on the 500 block of First Street Hawkins noted has been the source of continued community complaints.

A street altercation between police and residents ensued. Three people were taken into custody. Charges included inciting a riot, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and endangering the welfare of a child.

A bystander recorded part of the incident on a cell phone and posted it on social media. Hawkins says the video was sent to a city employee who then forwarded it to police. "After reviewing the cellphone video an internal investigation into the incident was immediately launched by the Albany Police Department's Office of Professional Standards. The preliminary investigation revealed Officer Deer had clearly acted inappropriately and had violated this department's standard operating procedure. He was immediately suspended without pay."

Hawkins says a more thorough internal investigation was conducted parallel with a criminal investigation including Albany Police detectives. The Albany County D.A.'s office got involved.   "Not only had Office Deer violated departmental policy, he had also criminal acts as well. Following a thorough and methodical investigation into Office Deer's actions on the morning of March 16th, Office Deer has been charged with assault second, which is a felony, and official misconduct, which is a Class A misdemeanor."

Deer was arraigned in Albany City Criminal Court. He made nearly $70,000 in 2018 according to the SeeThroughNY payroll database maintained by the Empire Center.   "It is my understanding that the charges against the three individuals who were arrested by Albany Police department officers during the incident on March 16th, have been or will be dismissed by the Albany County District Attorney's Office."

The D.A.’s office confirmed that later Tuesday, saying the charges would be dropped Wednesday.

Body cam footage was reviewed as part of the investigation. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says that video will be released after the probe is completed.   "The community will hear language that will offend them. It offended me. I want to stress two things to our residents. First, no one in this city should be treated with disrespect by any city employee. Whether it's a lifeguard at one of our pools or a police officer responding to a call. Even when our respect for a resident is not returned, we are called upon as public servants to be the adult in the room, and act professionally."

Hawkins says 10 to 12 officers were on the scene and one could be disciplined for turning off the body cam during the emotionally-charged altercation.   "We knew once we saw this that there was clearly some inappropriate conduct that was displayed and that there needed to be an administrative response."

Hawkins and Sheehan are hopeful that transparency will aid police-community relations. They declined to name the two other suspended officers.

Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice says the video sparked concern and anger.   "One of the persons who was arrested did come to our office and talked to us and told us exactly what was happening. And other people in the community contacted us, so we knew there was something."

Green commended Chief Hawkins for acting swiftly and being open, saying any suppression of the incident would otherwise have fueled mistrust.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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