ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office has reduced the charges against a woman who was facing two felonies in connection with an altercation on the Ithaca Commons in early April. The case has been drawing considerable public attention, with Black Lives Matter Ithaca and Mayor Svante Myrick both making public statements about the case on social media this week.
Rose de Groat, 22, of Ithaca, was initially charged with two counts of second-degree attempted assault on police officers. However, the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office has reduced the charges to two counts of second-degree obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor. She also continues to face a resisting arrest charge, a misdemeanor.
De Groat pleaded not guilty to the reduced charges Wednesday in Ithaca City Court and several people came out to support her for the brief appearance before Judge Scott Miller. Attorney Ed Kopko, who is representing de Groat, welcomed the reduction in charges, “naturally,” he said. However, he did not have further comment yet as he had just received discovery materials, which were expected to include video footage, during the hearing Wednesday.
Asked about the reduction of charges Wednesday, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said he looks at every felony case that comes through the office.
“In this case, specifically because of the allegations that were made, I reviewed all the video evidence very carefully – every minute of it – and I determined that the appropriate charges were misdemeanor-level obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest as opposed to the original charges that were felony-level attempted assault charges,” Van Houten said. “It’s important to us that the right charges are leveled. I don’t think anybody did anything wrong by originally charging the attempted assault charges but on a more careful review of the evidence, I felt it was appropriate to reduce the top charges to misdemeanor level.”
De Groat and two others were charged in connection with an altercation that occurred at about 1:20 a.m. April 6 on the Ithaca Commons. Two other people — Cadji Ferguson, 26, and Riley Johnson, 21, both of Ithaca — were charged with disorderly conduct that night, too.
According to the account from police, who issued a news release on April 8, officers on foot patrol said they witnessed Ferguson run across the Commons and strike another man in the face and knock him to the ground. Officers said they ran to the fight and tried to take Ferguson into custody, and while doing so said de Groat attacked the officers. A post by Black Lives Matter Ithaca on Tuesday, citing witnesses, claims that isn’t the full story. They say police “tasered and otherwise brutalized … two African American residents who had already been the victims of an unprovoked assault by a white man.”
The police news release after the incident did not mention a taser being used, but when asked April 11 if a taser was used on de Groat, Ithaca Police Officer Jamie Williamson, public information officer for the IPD, said one taser was used at the scene on Ferguson to “stop him from resisting officers’ efforts to secure him in handcuffs.”
On Tuesday, Black Lives Matter Ithaca posted a letter on Facebook addressed to Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca Common Council and the Ithaca Police Department. The post states that police acted “recklessly and abusively” when arriving on the scene of a physical altercation on the Commons.
“Black Lives Matter Ithaca, the Multicultural Resource Center, and community members strongly condemn the actions of the Ithaca Police Department officers who on April 6, 2019, at 1:20 a.m., tasered and otherwise brutalized, on the Commons, two African American residents who had already been the victims of an unprovoked assault by a white man,” the post begins. (Full post below)
The post ends by making several demands in “light of the ongoing failure of the IPD to respect the dignity, rights, and wellbeing of people of color,” it states. The demands include, “Release to the public all footage (security cameras, body cameras, etc.) of the events of the evening of April 6. Drop all charges associated with the incident and issue a public apology. Cover all healthcare expenses and other damages of those arrested. Launch a full investigation of the individual who instigated the altercation by forcibly touching a woman without consent. Discipline the officers who used excessive force during the arrest and mishandled the removal of the taser probes. Acknowledge the larger pattern of discrimination against people of color by the IPD. Equip the Community Police Board with real power to hold officers accountable.”
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick responded to the post on Facebook stating that immediately after the incident he asked to review the footage and said, “I saw enough that worried me – so I ordered an internal investigation.” He said he can’t share any details about the ongoing investigation but said if the outcome suggests any wrongdoing, “we will take appropriate corrective action.”
He said that they do have footage from the Ithaca Commons and the body cameras, which he said will be released to the public “as soon as possible.” The Ithaca Voice has not received a response yet to a freedom of information request filed for body camera footage.
Johnson’s case has been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. On April 24, Ferguson pleaded not guilty to charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He is due to return to court at 9 a.m. May 17. De Groat is due to reappear in court May 31.