Officers acted in accordance with department policies when they responded to a fight and arrested two people on April 6 on the Ithaca Commons, interim Ithaca Police Department Chief Dennis Nayor said.
The internal investigation into the conduct of officers in the arrests of Cadji Ferguson, who was tasered, and Rose Degroat, who was pushed to the ground, has been completed, Nayor confirmed, as first reported by WSKG. The investigation included the review of body camera footage, other camera footage from the scene, and conversations with officers, Nayor confirmed, but said he could not comment on further specifics. Nayor did not say whether passersby or other witnesses were involved in the internal investigation.
The arrest of DeGroat and Ferguson, who has maintained he was responding to the sexual assault of his friend, drew outrage from many in the community. Camera footage shows that within about 30 seconds, police had tased Ferguson and tackled Degroat.
Ferguson is charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. DeGroat faces two counts of second-degree attempted assault, a felony, and one count each of obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest after her case went before a grand jury. At the last Common Council meeting, protestors asked that the charges be dropped and the two be compensated, among other requests.
The investigation was measuring whether the officers’ actions were in line with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Graham v. Connor and whether the force used was “objectively reasonable” for an officer at the scene, Nayor said.
“It prevents 20/20 hindsight, because after the fact, there's always information that can be known,” Nayor said. “But when you look at something that unfolds, as it unfolds, in this particular case, it was a person running up, punching and striking another person, knocking that person to the ground, running off, and that’s what the officers had to go on.”
The interim chief of police repeated that information available now was not known by officers at the time of their action, saying “we deal in chaotic scenes.”
“When you're right there in the middle of it, it's not always going to be something that is a perfectly choreographed scenario.” Other factors Nayor mentioned were timing and the “predictability and people who have been drinking.”
Although the investigation found that policies had not been breached, things could have gone better, Nayor noted.
“If the situation is ever looked at from the outside, and the first reaction people have is that there was something racist or something done wrong, then there's more work for us to do in building trust,” he said.
He cited ongoing training efforts in cultural competency, implicit bias, de-escalation and conflict resolution as part of the continual effort to improve.
“We don't always control things, we just control how we respond,” he said, and continually improving training and procedures is part of that. “Even if something meets all standards, if there's things that obviously create public conversation, we look at what can we do better?”
Nayor did not say who conducted the investigation or exactly when it was completed, saying that he could not comment on specifics. He did say that someone who was “impartial” conducted the investigation, which he called “comprehensive,” before it was reviewed by higher-ups in the department. The mayor has previously said the investigation is conducted by a lieutenant and overseen by department administration.
Mayor Svante Myrick first announced an internal investigation a Facebook comment, and later shared footage from body cameras and cameras in the Commons. The May 3 comment was in response to a post by Black Lives Matter Ithaca demanding the release of body camera footage from the arrests. [The videos can be viewed here.]