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Following Controversial Arrest, Schenectady Announces Police Policy Changes

Schenectady Police headquarters
Lucas Willard
Schenectady Police headquarters

After video of an arrest Monday led to protests outside police headquarters hours later, Schenectady officials announced changes to several police protocols Thursday. 

Three days after video of an arrest in which a Schenectady police officer appears to place his knee on a man’s neck sparked protest, city leaders unveiled five police reforms Thursday afternoon.

“We’re always trying to do things better and reviewing things,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy.

According to the release from Mayor McCarthy, Police Chief Eric Clifford, and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, police will no longer be able to use a knee on a person’s neck or head.

Body camera footage of the arrest of 31-year-old Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud shows officer Brian Pommer doing just that.

Pommer is now on desk duty as the incident is reviewed.

McCarthy had signed an executive order on June 10th banning knee-to-neck holds and chokeholds. Speaking with WAMC News, he commented on the addition of knee-to-head holds.

“It seemed that the original order did not address all possible scenarios. Just tightening up the wording of it,” said McCarthy.

Another change: warrantless arrests must be approved by patrol supervisors.

In the body camera footage, officer Pommer speaks with Gaindarpersaud, who was accused by his neighbors of slashing tires in the neighborhood, before attempting to make an arrest.

Gainderpersaud then runs to the backyard, contradicting his version of events recounted to WAMC earlier in the week. In the backyard, Pommer struggles with a resisting and unarmed Gaindarpersaud before holding the man to the ground with his knee. Pommer is shown punching Gaindarpersaud six times on the ground, before he is handcuffed after additional officers arrive. Another brief struggle occurs before Gaindarpersaud is put in a patrol car. Gaindarpersaud told WAMC he blacked out during the arrest, and woke up in Ellis Hospital. The police department says he never lost consciousness.

The reforms announced Thursday came after the footage was reviewed by the NAACP, members of the city council, and the city’s Civilian Police Review Board.

Saying he was speaking for himself and not the board, Review Board Chair Dick Shave supports the restriction of warrantless arrests.

“Once this is implemented and trained and properly enforced into the DNA of the officers, none of this would happen without a supervisor there, which is a second officer and someone with more experience.”

Other changes: The department will seek to remove any officer who uses unwarranted deadly force; and the department will explore further changes with the Civilian Police Review Board.

Enhancements will also be made to de-escalation training.

WAMC asked Shave whether he thinks the changes are adequate.

“Adequate to what, solving racism in America? Fixing policing in Schenectady? No. But it’s certainly a great step,” said Shave.

In a statement, Police Chief Clifford said his department is committed to protecting the life and property of all residents. He adds:

“We are committed to building trust and serving our community. Although that level of trust is being questioned right now, we are committed to continuing to serve our community. We will continue to engage with children, young adults, residents, visitors, and our senior citizens. We are committed to helping those who suffer from substance abuse disorder find treatment. We are committed to reforming the police department to meet the vision of our community. We are committed to listening, trying to understand, and being fair, impartial, and transparent in everything that we do.”

Demonstrators plan to return to Liberty Street in Schenectady on Monday. The community group All Of Us has released a 13-point list of demands to the city.

McCarthy said he understands their frustrations.

“It’s something we want to deal with every day. Some of it is how do you convert the protest into policy? So hopefully some of the dialogue will shift to, again, either state legislation or local legislation that will, again, hopefully build confidence in public safety and policing, specifically,” said McCarthy.  

A review of the entire incident on Brandywine Avenue is being conducted by the Schenectady Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards and the county District Attorney. McCarthy said he hopes to share further information about the investigation on Friday.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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