ITHACA, N.Y. – Mayor Svante Myrick released police body camera footage Friday from an incident that took place on the Ithaca Commons on April 6, after calls from the community to release the video.
At about 1:20 a.m. on April 6, Ithaca Police Department officers on foot patrol engaged with a group of young adults on the Commons. Police said in an April 8 press release that they saw a man, later identified as Cadji Ferguson, 26 of Ithaca, punch another man, whose name was not provided, in the face. The press release stated that when officers attempted to take Ferguson into custody, they were “attacked” from behind by a woman later identified as Rose de Groat, 22 of Ithaca.
Earlier this week, Black Lives Matter Ithaca addressed Myrick, Common Council and the Ithaca Police Department in a letter posted on Facebook on April 30 stating that police acted “recklessly and abusively” when arriving at the scene. They said police “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,” referring to the unnamed person involved in the initial altercation with Ferguson.
The post ended by making several demands, one of which was to release all footage of the events from surveillance and body cameras.
Mayor Svante Myrick responded to the post on social media Tuesday, saying he had reviewed video footage of the incident and “I saw enough that worried me – so I ordered an internal investigation.” He promised transparency and said he would release video to the public “as soon as possible.”
Myrick released 10 videos Friday evening, recorded by police body cameras and Commons surveillance cameras. They were published on the city’s website.
“We are posting these videos because we believe transparency is the key to accountability and trust. Especially because throughout history the criminal justice system has had racist outcomes in the United States. And we need to increase transparency and trust with our department, because I know first hand that the Ithaca Police Department does a great job under tough circumstances. They receive extensive training and that enables them to do their job safely. Our officers have also been trained extensively in racial sensitivity and implicit bias. But we also know that no one is perfect, officer or citizen alike, so we approach each internal investigation with the intent to be fair and just,” Myrick said in a social media post with the link to the footage.
At the beginning of the third video, footage shows a woman calmly approaching officers who are standing on the Ithaca Commons and directing their attention toward the block’s east end. After speaking with her the officers take off running, and in under 30 seconds tase and tackle Ferguson.
The Ithaca Voice asked police on April 11 whether a taser was used on de Groat, after reviewing photographs provided by witnesses showing an officer brandishing a taser. In reply, IPD public information officer Jamie Williamson said a taser was “utilized to control Cadji and stop him from resisting officers’ efforts to secure him in handcuffs.”
The Ithaca Police Department’s policies on taser use are not public, and a court previously ruled the city does not need to release them in response to Freedom of Information Law requests.
Community members have questioned why the man allegedly involved in the initial altercation with Ferguson was not arrested. The Black Lives Matter post alleges that moments before police approached Ferguson, “Cadji had witnessed a man approach Cadji’s friend from behind and inappropriately grope her. Cadji attempted to intervene on her behalf and confronted the individual, who became hostile and attacked him.”
In video two of 10, before Ferguson is led to a police vehicle an officer says he saw him attack someone. Ferguson can be heard telling the officer, “You don’t know what happened before that, he tried to assault my friend.” After an officer pulls taser probes from Ferguson’s back, before he is put into the police vehicle, Ferguson is recorded saying, “He’s 45 years old and he tried to touch a 21-year-old … he came up and grabbed her basically by the p—- … to me that’s a predator.”
In footage from a different body camera — video seven of 10 — two officers are recorded interacting with the man, who one calls Joseph after checking his ID.
As one officer approaches, he says, “So I could see almost everything that happened. Obviously, there was some disagreement between you and the guy in the red?”
“The black guy around the corner?” the man responds. He says Ferguson swung at him and indicates an injury on his lip.
The officer asks if he wants to press charges, and the man says only if it will help the police out. “It won’t change anything,” the officer responds.
As the officers begin to walk away, the man offers to tell them more. “No, that’s OK, sir,” one officer says, as the man takes a call on speakerphone and begins to talk to an unknown person on the phone.
“These black guys f—– with me, and then I slapped them around a little bit, and they cold c—– me, and so they’re here and the officers are asking me should I press charges, so I said no, I don’t want to do that,” body camera audio records him saying into his phone. He tells the officers he is staying at a hotel and that his son is trying out for Cornell wrestling, and they tell him he is free to go and to get some rest.
District Attorney Matthew Van Houten cited his review of video footage when explaining why his office reduced charges against de Groat from two felony counts of second-degree attempted assault to two counts of second-degree obstructing governmental administration and one count of disorderly conduct, which are both misdemeanors.
“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 in an interview with the Ithaca Voice on Wednesday, May 1. “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 appeared in Ithaca City Court on Wednesday, May 1, with a handful of supporters. Attorney Ed Kopko is representing de Groat and expected to receive access to video footage on Wednesday as discovery was turned over. De Groat pleaded not guilty to the reduced charges and is due to appear in court again on May 31.
Ferguson pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct and is due to appear in Ithaca City Court at 9 a.m. May 17.
A misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct filed against Riley Johnson, 21 of Ithaca, who police described as a member of the crowd around the incident, has been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
Managing Editor Kelsey O’Connor contributed to this report.