The charges against Rose DeGroat have been dismissed by order of Tompkins County Judge John C. Rowley in a judgment issued Friday afternoon.
Rowley's reasoning mostly focused on his view that video evidence contradicted the grand jury testimony of one of the police officers ("Officer Herz," as identified in the ruling) involved in the April 6 incident on the Commons, which resulted in the arrests of Cadji Ferguson and DeGroat after they were involved in an altercation with a third party, named in the judge's order as Joseph Ming. It's not clear if the judge was able to review more or different videos than had been publicly released by the City of Ithaca in the wake of the incident. The ruling brings an end to what had been a tumultuous saga over the last several months, marked by rallies held by local activist groups like Black Lives Matter Ithaca and Standing Up for Racial Justice, as well as a public apology offered by Mayor Svante Myrick to DeGroat and Ferguson.
The ruling contains several fairly harsh criticisms of the conduct of police officers during the incident, particularly Herz. Rowley wrote that "Ithaca Police Officers overreacted to the initial situation [...] The police made no effort to defuse the situation or to simply separate the men while the conflict was sorted out," which would appear to contradict the Ithaca Police Department's internal findings that their officers had not committed any wrongdoing and would not be punished in connection with the incident. A request for comment from Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor has not yet been returned, but this story will be updated if it is.
After hearing testimony and reviewing the videos, Rowley offers his narrative of the case as follows: He stated that videos showed Ming was not knocked unconscious when he was pushed to the ground by Ferguson, something "Officer Herz" had testified to thinking as he approached the situation, and that it should have been obvious because Ming was standing and squared off with Ferguson by the time police tackled Ferguson.
"There was no time for Mr. Ferguson to hear, understand or respond to the command that he get on the ground," the judge wrote.
The judge acknowledges that DeGroat "threw herself into the melee in defense of Mr. Ferguson," after Ferguson was tased by responding officers, and that one officer sustained scratches on his face, apparently inflicted by DeGroat, though those were the only injuries listed that DeGroat was accused of causing. Rowley went on to rebuke Herz's conduct during the arrest and his testimony about it.
"Officer Herz was not justified in using a taser on Mr. Ferguson," Rowley wrote. "His claim that Mr. Ferguson might have knocked Mr. Ming unconscious was clearly not true; his claim that he could tell Mr. Ferguson was getting ready to run is doubtful; and it is not accurate to characterize Mr. Ferguson's actions as resisting arrest."
Rowley also deemed the arrest of Ferguson by police officers as "aggressively forceful." Ferguson was found not guilty of the charges against him in connection with the incident earlier this month. Rowley's full dismissal decision can be read at the bottom of this page.
The motion to dismiss was filed by DeGroat's attorneys, Ed Kopko and Jerome Mayersak.
"Based upon the foregoing analyses, the court finds the Defendant's motion is granted," the judge wrote. "There are exceptional circumstances present here that warrant the relief sought."
The judge notes that the District Attorney's office had already agreed to drop two of the four charges against DeGroat, both of which were for second degree attempted assault. She had still been scheduled to go to trial in November on the two remaining charges, for obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors that per Friday's decision have now been dismissed.
District Attorney Matt van Houten said that a press conference will be scheduled to address the case, but did not offer further comment.