ITHACA, N.Y. – On Nov. 17, 2016, officers from the Ithaca Police Department arrived at a Hudson Street apartment after receiving a noise complaint. Kyle Goldstein, a 21-year-old Ithaca College student at the time, was one of the hosts. In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Binghamton, Goldstein alleges police unlawfully entered his apartment, detained him, and pepper sprayed his eyes from inches away while he was lying on the ground handcuffed.
The complaint filed by attorney Edward Kopko seeks to hold two IPD officers involved, as well as former Chief John Barber and the City of Ithaca, responsible “for deprivations of (Goldstein’s) constitutional rights by illegal police conduct and police brutality.”
“We have filed suit in the U.S. District Court in order to vindicate his rights. He suffered as a result of the illegal arrest and excessive use of force,” Kopko said in an interview with The Ithaca Voice. “The complaint and evidence clearly demonstrate that he was on the ground, subdued by several police officers, his hands tucked behind his back, and defendant Allard sprayed him in the face with a caustic spray that has permanently destroyed a part of his cornea.”
The lawsuit cites a total of six counts against officers Jacob Allard and Daniel Bechtold, Chief John Barber, and the City, including excessive use of force; deprivation of liberty without due process of the law; failure to intervene with regard to excessive use of force and deprivation of liberty without due process; malicious prosecution; and deliberately indifferent policies, policies, practices, customs, training and supervision in violation of the fourth and fourteenth amendments.
Based on a review of the footage from body cameras worn by Allard and Bechtold, the plaintiff’s complaint offers a story of escalating use of force by officers after entering Goldstein’s apartment without permission.
Allard and Bechtold responded to the noise complaint at about 11:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 2016. According to the complaint, footage shows them wishing several partygoers a safe night as they approached 702 Hudson St., before asking a woman if she knew who lived at the house. After she answered, “I don’t know,” Allard and Bechtold entered through the front door.
As the officers told people to leave the apartment, Bechtold approached Goldstein and asked, “Alright, buddy you live here?” to which Goldstein answered, “Yes, I do,” according to the complaint’s summary of video footage. The plaintiff’s account says Bechtold then grabbed Goldstein’s right arm, while Goldstein continued talking with bystanders, before Allard also approached and grabbed Goldstein’s left arm.
While handcuffed, Goldstein began calling for a nearby woman to get a video camera, before Allard tackled him to the floor and pinned him face down, the complaint alleges. It states several bystanders were in the room, including one woman named in the complaint, Julia Judge, who was pushed to the floor by Bechtold next to Goldstein.
While on the floor Goldstein rolled from his stomach onto his back, though the complaint notes it is unclear whether he rolled of his own volition or was rolled over by Allard.
Allard then allegedly pulled out a canister while holding Goldstein’s face and neck and sprayed his eyes pepper spray. “Allard’s hand is approximately six to eight inches away from Goldstein’s face, and the burst of pepper spray lasts approximately two seconds,” the complaint reads.
Video footage also shows Bechtold pointing a taser at onlookers, the complaint says.
Goldstein repeatedly requested help wiping pepper spray from his eyes and yelled in pain while officers brought him to the back of a cruiser and questioned him, before transporting him to the police station, the complaint says.
Police charged Goldstein with obstruction of governmental administration and resisting arrest, alleging he pulled away from police, refused to confirm whether he was a resident of the apartment, and attempted to head-butt or bite Allard while on the floor, but the District Attorney’s office later dropped the charges.
Goldstein was treated Nov. 19, 2016, for chemical conjunctivitis in both eyes and scleral abrasion in his left eye, the complaint says. He was diagnosed shortly after with severe abrasion/chemosis and almost complete epithelial loss. He has suffered permanent vision damage, the complaint says.
Current Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler declined to comment, and City Attorney Ari Lavine did not respond to request for comment.
Kopko has requested a jury trial and stated he will seek damages including compensation for medical expenses, emotional distress, and punitive damages, and will ask for injunctions against Allard, Bechtold, IPD and the City to prevent unlawful searches, detentions and arrests.
A procedural hearing is scheduled for July 5, 2019, at the U.S. District Court in Binghamton.
Featured image: A photo included in the complaint allegedly shows Goldstein on the ground while Allard administers pepper spray. (Provided photo)