Ithaca, N.Y. — An emotional meeting in the Tompkins County Legislative Chambers Monday afternoon stretched over two hours as police gave an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of how and why a standoff in Danby ended in tragedy on Jan. 2.
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Sheriff Ken Lansing and other law enforcement spoke to lawmakers and members of the public angry about the barricade.
David Cady, 36, was found dead inside his Hornbrook Road home after a standoff that lasted about 60 hours and drew dozens of police officers to a quiet section of Tompkins County.
Both lawmakers and those frustrated by the barricade — including Cady’s widow — have listed a series of complaints with how police handled the standoff.
They include: the heavy damage done to the home; the allegedly overzealous and aggressive police response, given that Cady was wanted on a DWI warrant; and, above all, the idea that the cops should have done more to get Cady out alive.
Sheriff Lansing and other law enforcement, however, say the response was necessarily precisely because police were taking every precaution to preserve life — both of law enforcement and, they say, of the suspect.
They also emphasized to the legislature’s public safety committee at several points Monday that Cady was armed and had said that he was prepared to hurt law enforcement.
“It was not a situation that would result in storming the house because that would mean somebody would die and that was never an acceptable outcome,” said Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson, who was called to the scene early in the standoff.
“The organizing principal was to get Mr. Cady out of that house.”
But many of the members of the public in attendance visibly displayed their dissatisfaction with these assurances, at times even interrupting or trying to shout over police. At other times, some cried as law enforcement spoke.
Here are 8 key takeaways from the meeting:
1 — Several robots failed police
Five or six robots failed local law enforcement as they worked to end the standoff, said Sgt. Jacob Young of the Ithaca Police Department. These robots were sent in by police to get a better sense of Cady’s location and status.
“For various reasons they weren’t able to get onto the second floor,” Young said of the robots. “We have all this technology … and sometimes it doesn’t work the way we think it will.”
2 — Why gas canisters were ineffective
Sgt. Young also explained that law enforcement wouldn’t realize until after the standoff was over why deployed gas canisters had been ineffective.
Here’s why: Law enforcement discovered after the standoff that there had been several “drop ceilings” in the house— meaning that there was a layer between the original ceiling and where a new one was constructed.
The gas canisters were hitting the top of the old ceiling and dispersing gas against another solid surface. In other words, they weren’t reaching Cady.
“We had no reaction from the gas deployment,” Young said. “There were a large amount of drop ceilings within the residence.”
3 — Negotiator relays Cady’s “emotional roller coaster,” concessions of police
Sometime after 9 p.m. on the first day of the standoff, Senior Investigator Mike Gray arrived as the first negotiator at the scene.
He said his initial conversation with Cady lasted “three or four minutes,” and that while the Danby man appeared agitated, “I was able to get him back down to a level where we could have a peaceful and meaningful conversation.” Cady even apologized at one point for his actions, according to Gray.
In exchange, Gray said police met some of Cady’s demands — contrary to standard practice during these kinds of negotiations — and that he seemed at times willing to be calmed down.
“We allowed him to speak with his wife over the phone: a request he made followed by a promise to come out …,” Gray said.
Gray said police also agreed to not put Cady face down in the snow if he came out.
“I told him that would not happen — that if he acted like a gentleman, we would treat him like a gentleman,” Gray said.
However, Cady “backed out on his promise,” according to Gray. At least three negotiators eventually tried speaking to Cady; there were times that they thought serious progress had been made.
“He even made overtures that he was coming out,” Gray said.
Cady’s emotions were up and down throughout the standoff, but he ultimately didn’t do what police needed most, according to Gray.
“There was a long, protracted effort right up until the end of this situation to try to communicate with him,” Gray said.
“Every effort was made to communicate with Mr. Cady and trying to get him to come out.”
4 — Police feared another Herkimer
At more than one point during Monday’s meeting, Sgt. Young explained that law enforcement feared another “Herkimer incident.”
In 2013, a man with no criminal history other than a drunken driving conviction from the 1970s started a shooting rampage that included firing on law enforcement and a long standoff.
Five people died and a police K-9 was slain in that incident. The suspect was also shot and killed.
“The fact that (Cady) was up and we saw him moving around on that second and third day was cause for concern for us,” Sgt. Young said. “It started to make us worry it was a situation that was similar to the Herkimer incident where the subject was essentially … lying in wait for us to make that physical entry into the house.”
Young called the Danby barricade a “one-in-25-0year incident.” He said the local SWAT team had only been called out to 34 barricade incidents since 1998, “but none of them have gone on for this long.”
“I would compare it to a tornado around here,” he said.
5 — The number of agencies involved has been overstated
Several media outlets, including The Voice, took a statement from the sheriff’s office to mean that over a dozen law enforcement agencies were called to the Hornbrook Road home.
Sgt. Young clarified, however, that not all of these agencies had officers on scene.
Some, like one in Cayuga County, only sent technical assistance, according to Young. “They were never there,” he said.
6 — Standoff costs law enforcement $13,000
About $13,000 in overtime will be paid out to local law enforcement, said incoming Undersheriff Brian Robison, an outgoing legislator.
‘”The cost was a bit less than I thought it would be,” Robison said, noting that the holiday season increased the cost of paying law enforcement overtime.
Robison said he thought that there was a misconception with some people believing that Tompkins County would have to cover the pay for other law enforcement agencies. That isn’t true, he said.
7 — Widow, legislator remain dissatisfied
Melissa Cady, David Cady’s wife, said in a brief interview after the meeting that the police presentation made her angrier than she had been beforehand and raised a new raft of questions.
“My questions will never end, honestly. Like I said in the beginning of all this … I don’t hate the police. I hate the decisions that were made, period.”
“They did a lot of covering their butts … To me it was a whole bunch of testosterone with toys.”
Jim Dennis, of the Tompkins County Legislature, said he also still has questions about what happened.
“The big question the public had at our regular meeting was … there seemed to be an overabundance of people around and taking the house apart, and this was a felony DWI,” Dennis said.
Dennis said the presentation from law enforcement was helpful and effective in answering some questions. Still, during the meeting, Dennis asked law enforcement why they didn’t just leave a few cop cars on either side of the house and drive away.
“That didn’t get answered,” he said.
8 — What are the next steps?
Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson stressed that this was not the final discussion on the barricade. Unlike cop shows, she said, it’s impossible to neatly wrap up difficult incidents within 60 minutes to the satisfaction of all parties.
“This is not the last time we’re going to talk about this,” Robertson said.
Sheriff Lansing said he has “no idea” when the final police report will be done since he doesn’t know when the coroner’s report will be done.