Members of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office delivered a presentation Thursday before a county legislature committee about the department’s response to and an analysis of a Black Lives Matter protest in July. Counter-protestors also appeared and tensions escalated into verbal sparring and violence. Legislators had many questions.
The July 18 Black Lives Matter protest in Pleasant Valley, attended by Blue Lives Matter, or Back the Blue, counter-protesters, drew up to 700 people. Dutchess County Detective Sergeant Adam Harris of the Internal Affairs Bureau says the Sheriff’s office has obtained evidence that both groups had participants who committed violence and displayed pure hatred toward one another.
“What we have collected and what we have seen is that there was a small group on both sides that were not peaceful,” Harris says. “Rocks were thrown. People were punched. People were pushed. People said horrific things against one another but both sides was [sic] doing this.”
The Sheriff’s Department conducted a so-called after action review, as they do after any large-scale event. Lieutenant Shawn Castano says 70 law enforcement officials were assigned to the protests in Pleasant Valley. And there was an operational issue that has since been remedied.
“July 24, Dutchess County Department of Emergency Response reported to the Sheriff’s office that the tower used to transmit on the day of the event did, in fact, have interference that may have been the cause of our radio communication failure,” Castano says. “So during the event, we had issues with some of the officers communicating with the command post.”
Undersheriff Kirk Imperati says, going forward, the department will do certain things differently, including tending to communication equipment issues.
“Then the sheriff directed the Internal Affairs Bureau to create an email address for confidential complaints — InternalAffairsBureau@dutchessny.gov,” says Imperati. “He also directed our accreditation team to start developing a policy on protests and demonstrations.”
The Department does not have such a policy and is reviewing these policies from other agencies.
“The sheriff also directed incident commanders to develop incident actions plans for future protests that include a mechanism to have members from the public to file complaints on the scene in a safe and organized manner. This is going to be a daunting task but is something we think we can accomplish. This would increase a likelihood of identifying offenders and holding them accountable for their actions,” says Imperati. "The sheriff also directed all incident commanders to develop a plan for future protests that bridge a gap between staying out of view and the pure or less militarized versus public safety and the necessity for police presence.”
Democratic Dutchess County Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias of Poughkeepsie addressed the undersheriff.
“Speaking for Black and Brown people and for those who were there, our biggest issue is that we do not trust law enforcement, even less the Sheriff’s Department,” Llaverias says.
“What we saw at that protest, me being there, we did not see any level of trust,” says Llaverias. “We did not see any level of protection.”
He says he has footage of counter-protestors attacking women and children in front of security.
“Why weren’t the arrests made when it was made in front of police officers?” Llaverias asks.
“Well, to your point, we spoke that day of the protest and you informed me that you saw these acts and said, ‘I have video of it.’ And we exchanged pleasantries, and I said please share that video with me,” Imperate says. “It’s now August 6. You haven’t shared anything with me.”
Imperati then encouraged Llevarias to share the footage. Detective Sergeant Harris says some 75 complaints have come into the sheriff’s office, mainly through a tip line, and about 95 percent of the complaints have no contact numbers to follow up, so the department sent emails requesting video evidence and further info.
“What was troubling was that we discovered that most of them had been copied and pasted over and over and over again,” Harris says. “I deal in Internal Affairs complaints; I never get the same complaint twice. Everybody has their own story. Everybody sees their own thigs. Everybody tells it how they see it.”
He said he believes they have identified the source of the cut-and-paste complaint. Harris says there are people of interest but no arrests have been made. Harris says to move forward, a victim must file a formal complaint, and there are a handful of formal complaints. After a few Democratic legislators urged Sheriff Department officials to return in September with an update, even before the investigation may be closed, Imperati acquiesced.