ITHACA, N.Y. — On April 6, Ithaca Police Department officers arrested two young Ithacans after an altercation on the Ithaca Commons. Police body camera footage was released to the public in May, fueling debate about the decision by police to intervene and the tactics they used, which included tackling one person to the ground and tasing another. Black Lives Matter Ithaca and affiliated organizations have called for all charges against Cadji Ferguson and Rose de Groat, 22 and 26 of Ithaca, to be dropped. But, the cases for both continue.
Ferguson appeared in Ithaca City Court on Friday and, through attorney Seth Peacock, declined a plea agreement offered by the Tompkins County District Attorney. Ferguson pleaded not guilty to charges of resisting arresting and disorderly conduct on April 24. Friday, the district attorney’s office offered Ferguson unconditional discharge in exchange for a guilty plea to disorderly conduct, a non-criminal violation.
“We’ve reviewed the offer, which was provided a couple weeks ago, and we’re rejecting the offer,” Peacock said in an appearance before Judge Richard Wallace. If found guilty of the misdemeanor resisting arrest charge, Wallace said, Ferguson could face up to a year in jail and would have a criminal conviction on his record.
Dozens of supporters were at court Friday to support Ferguson, as well as at his last court appearance on May 17. After each hearing, Black Lives Matter Ithaca organizer Russell Rickford called on community members to continue to offer a counter-narrative to the police department’s account of the April 6 arrests.
“Our presence here is very important because it sends a clear message that the community won’t tolerate the railroading and criminalization of our young people,” Rickford said Friday. “The only thing that cops respond to,” he said, “is a counterforce from below. The community needs to continue to organize.”
Ferguson briefly addressed the crowd outside the courthouse, surrounded by family. “I just want to thank everyone for constantly showing up and supporting me,” he said. “I appreciate you guys more than you know.”
While Ferguson’s case remains in Ithaca City Court, because the top charge is a misdemeanor, de Groat’s case has been moved to Tompkins County Court where she faces two felony counts.
De Groat was indicted on four counts by a grand jury on Thursday, including two felony counts of second-degree attempted assault and misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.
The grand jury proceeding came after District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said in May that he was reducing the top charges from felonies to misdemeanors after reviewing video footage and all other available evidence.
In an interview with The Ithaca Voice on May 1, Van Houten said after reviewing the evidence, “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. … 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.”
Van Houten declined to comment on the indictment handed up by the grand jury Thursday.
De Groat’s attorney, Edward Kopko, said Thursday that it had been his understanding that de Groat would face misdemeanor charges in Ithaca City Court and said the felony indictment came as a surprise. Kopko said de Groat plans to plead not guilty on all counts and that he welcomes the chance to go to trial and refute the police department’s narrative. “We are delighted for the opportunity to present the facts of this case to a jury who will judge exactly what happened, as instigated by the police,” Kopko said.
De Groat will be arraigned in Tompkins County Court at 11 a.m. Monday, June 10. Ferguson’s next court appearance is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, August 2 in Ithaca City Court.
Featured image: A crowd of supporters gathered outside Ithaca City Court on June 7. (Devon Magliozzi/The Ithaca Voice)
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