ITHACA, NY – Almost a year and a half later, many people — including county officials — are left feeling uncertain about the police standoff that occurred in Danby starting December 30, 2014.
In the aftermath lay a family without a father or a home and a community that felt sad, angry and confused — and maybe even a little frightened — at what seemed like an overreaction and excessive use of force from law enforcement.
[su_spoiler title=”Click here for a summary of the Hornbrook Road Standoff” icon=”chevron-circle”]The Hornbrook Road Standoff was a 61-hour standoff between Danby resident David Cady, 37, and dozens of police officers from Tompkins County, including the Ithaca SWAT team.
Cady was wanted on a bench warrant related to a DUI charge, according to the official after-incident report. When two members of Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department attempted to take Cady into custody, Cady’s wife told them he had a loaded weapon.
Cady barricaded himself in his home. Police tried a variety of tactics to convince him to turn himself in including negotiation, tear gas, concussive devices and heavy equipment that essentially removed walls from the house.
Cady had multiple firearms, and fired one shot at the officers. He created what Sheriff Ken Lansing called a “fatal funnel” at the top of the stairs in his home, which deterred a manned invasion of the home.
Ultimately, on the morning of January 2, 2015, Cady was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.[/su_spoiler]
The incident is still on the minds of many from Danby and the County Legislature, with the question being: “Did we do the right thing?”
Hoping for an answer
Last year, Deputy County Administrator Paula E. F. Younger set the wheels in motion for a Department of Justice (DOJ) review of the incident.
In April, DOJ representatives from its Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program held two separate meetings: one with town and county officials and one with some members of the public from Danby. Reports from those meetings can be found in the May issue of the Danby Area News.
The ongoing process of the county’s efforts with the DOJ was discussed during Tuesday’s meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature.
Legislator Peter Stein, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, momentarily struggled for words as he tried to encapsulate the situation. “I think it was the … the most amount of time that I have seen our constituents get together extremely unhappy about what we did as a county,” he said.
“I think that the thing that I had been looking for, and which I think most of us had been looking for, is the answer to a simple question: Did we, and by we I mean the Sheriff’s department, do the right thing at that time? And if not, what should we have done? What should we learn from that experience?,” Stein continued.
Stein went on to report that no definitive answer would be forthcoming, as that is not the COPS program’s purpose or goal. They might suggest alternatives or present how such a situation might be handled differently, but there would be no official declaration of “right” or “wrong.”
Another meeting with the DOJ’s COPS representatives, which would be open to the public, is currently being planned.
“We had a discussion about that. We had a very contentious [Public Safety Committee] meeting, because, at the first vote the majority of us felt that what we could expect from the Department of Justice was so lacking in what we really wanted that we really should not have a public meeting at all,” Stein said.
Legislator Martha Robertson explained in more detail why some felt the meeting would be a bad idea.
“We’re getting something like a recitation of best practices [from the DOJ]… the sense was that we’re not going to get what we thought we were getting, we’re not going to get what the community wanted,” Robertson said. “So what we would do is raise expectations again, and disappoint everybody. That was the contention.”
“I wish that we would not try to anticipate how people are going to react to this report that hasn’t come out yet, to a meeting that hasn’t happened yet,” said Legislator Dan Klein, who represents Danby. “It may be true what people are predicting, and if that comes to pass we have a lot of options.”
One of the other options that was presented was hiring an independent consultant to evaluate the incident, though that would be a fairly expensive undertaking. Klein also argued that people may very well be satisfied with what the DOJ has to say.
Klein said he had attended meetings in Danby with the DOJ, where many people were very displeased with how the incident had been handled. “They reported very positive feelings after meeting with the Department of Justice. So if they can be optimistic about what they’re hearing, I hope we can be too,” Klein said.
What can be gained from COPS?
Deputy County Administrator Paula Younger explained in greater detail what the COPS program had to offer to the county. She called it a “package” of items that is part of the COPS program.
One part of the “package” is the public meeting. Younger explained it as an opportunity for the people of Danby to come and speak directly with DoJ representatives.
“What they’re trying to do is explain to the community what law enforcement faces when you have situations like this,” Younger said. “But no, they will not be able to parse apart every element of what the law enforcement officers did on Hornbrook road. That’s just not within the parameters of this particular program. But they do have experience to offer.”
Younger added that the COPS representatives aren’t just “Washington bureaucrats,” but rather experts in these sorts of police operations.
The date and location of the meeting are still uncertain, Younger said, but she has been in contact with the DoJ and is working to set something up.
Other elements of the COPS program will include work on community policing issues, improving communication protocols among local law enforcement and municipal officials, and setting up a “peer-to-peer network” that would establish connections with other law enforcement agencies in order to share experiences and ideas about police operations.
Legislature Chair Mike Lane endorsed the work of Younger and said that the COPS plan would be beneficial to the county. He also noted that the DOJ had praised the fact that the county had done an after-incident report and assessment.
“In my view we ought to be proceeding with this, we ought to be thankful that they’re helping us. If you hired a consultant, you paid them money, what are they going to say? You did good. You did bad,” said Lane. “I think they’re just going to rehash what was already brought forward in the after-incident report. I think the positive aspects of this Department of Justice study are where we should be heading.”