Mayor Steve Noble said Monday the city would implement some of the changes sought by an activist group in how city police investigate officers’ use of force and misconduct complaints.
Noble’s announcement comes as the police commission weighs at least three excessive force complaints brought by Citizen Action New York on behalf of Kingston residents.
“A lot of concerns that community members had were brought to our attention,” said Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti of the Nov. 15 Police Commission meeting. “It was a good, open dialogue.”
Since July, Citizen Action organizer Callie Jayne has brought three complaints on behalf of local residents who claim that they were victims of excessive force by city police officers. One of them, Fabian Marshall, spoke publicly about his case for the first time at the meeting in a video posted by Clark Richters’ The Kingston News. Back in 2015 Marshall was tackled, handcuffed and repeatedly Tased after he was stopped on Broadway by an officer investigating a report of a man being shoved off his bike nearby. A video of the encounter edited and released by Citizen Action shows the Kingston cop approaching Marshall and asking to speak to him. Marshall repeatedly asks why he’s being stopped and contends that he’s on his way to work.
Last week, Marshall claimed that when he turned away from the officer to place his hands on a nearby wall he was tackled, placed in a chokehold and repeatedly Tased. Marshall’s aunt, Anne Marie Crooks, witnessed the incident. She said on The Kingston News video she stood by horrified as her nephew was hit with shock after shock until he was bleeding from his ears. Crooks added that cops continued to activate the Taser even as they demanded that Marshall comply with their orders to hold still.
“He was tased so many times, multiple times that there was no way for him to be still,” recalls Crooks.
Earlier this month, after a previous mistrial, Marshall was convicted of misdemeanor obstructing governmental administration. The city court jury acquitted him of another misdemeanor count of resisting arrest. No one was ever charged for the assault that precipitated the police stop.
“Twenty-five years of good behavior, being a good person, trying to stay out of trouble down the drain because I was walking to work,” said Marshall.
The five-member police commission also met with complainant Adrin Brodhead in a closed-door executive session. Brodhead was carrying an open container of beer in a paper bag on the night of July 20 when he was stopped by Kingston cops in front of 440 Pizza on Broadway. Brodhead claims that when he questioned why he was being asked to place his hands behind his back, he was pepper-sprayed, Tased and tackled to the ground.
Both men filed formal complaints under a process that was revamped last year to make it less onerous to report alleged police misconduct. Under the new rules, reports can be filed on the complainant’s behalf by a third party and can be filed without making a trip to police headquarters or interacting with a police officer. The changes were made after a series of police-community forums.
But Citizen Action has sought more wide-ranging changes in how the five-member commission handles reports of misconduct. In a petition circulated in Kingston and online, the group seeks a change from a police commission composed of mayoral appointees to a more independent body and more routine investigation of officer misconduct, even in cases where no complaint has been filed.
This week, Noble said the commission planned to implement at least two of the changes sought. Going forward, Noble said, the commission would provide written decisions, regardless of the outcome, on misconduct complaints. Currently, the commission did not document their decisions or explain the reasoning behind them in any public forum. Noble added that the commission would also review all use-of-force incidents on a routine basis. Currently, use of pepper spray, Tasers and other non-lethal force is reviewed by shift supervisors who check to determine if the officer acted within department guidelines.
“Any time there’s use of force, we should be reviewing it as a commission,” said Noble. “That is something we’re going to review on a monthly basis whether there is a complaint or not.”
Other changes to the complaint process may be complicated by civil service law and labor agreements. For example, while the police chief has the power to impose minor punishments, like written reprimands or the loss of vacation days, more severe sanctions must be handled under Section 75 of state civil service law. Under the law, officers are entitled to a hearing before an independent hearing officer. The law also provides confidentiality for cops accused of misconduct that does not rise to the level of a crime. Last week, Tinti said the department was also weighing whether and how to implement another reform called for the petition — the logging of race and ethnicity of people detained by police in traffic stops or field interviews. That data has been used in other jurisdictions to examine patterns of racially biased policing. But Tinti said the department was still trying to work out details, notably how to determine race or ethnicity.
“We’re not sure how we do that,” said Tinti. “Does the officer ask, do they guess? It’s something we have to work out.”
Tinti added that the department was already moving ahead with another program to increase transparency and accountability, the use of body mounted cameras. The KPD’s deployment of body cams began last year with the department’s Special Investigations Unit. This year, the equipment was issued to all officers on the midnight shift. Tinti said that the smaller shift size and lower call volume on the overnight shift made it a good testing ground as the department works on issues like data storage.