ITHACA, N.Y. — After charges were previously reduced, an Ithaca woman is again facing felony charges following an April incident on the Ithaca Commons. Rose de Groat, 23 of Ithaca, pleaded not guilty to four counts in Tompkins County Court on Monday following allegations that she assaulted Ithaca police officers while they were in the process of arresting and tasing her friend Cadji Ferguson, 26, of Ithaca.
On Monday morning, about 75 people filled the courtroom to support de Groat during her arraignment, and dozens showed up to the Ithaca City Court last Friday to support Ferguson, who faces misdemeanor charges. Black Lives Matter Ithaca has organized multiple rallies on behalf of the two black community members facing charges.
Officers from the Ithaca Police Department arrested de Groat and Ferguson at about 1:20 a.m. on April 6. Police said they saw Ferguson strike a man in the face, and said de Groat interfered when they tried to arrest him, allegedly punching an officer in the head and shoulders and scratching the face of another officer, according to a felony complaint. Body camera footage released in May after public pressure shows officers tasing Ferguson and tackling de Groat moments after approaching them. While they were being arrested, several bystanders can be heard on the video telling police that the man Ferguson struck, who is white, had instigated the conflict by groping a woman who was with Ferguson and de Groat.
De Groat pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree attempted assault, a Class E felony, as well as resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, both misdemeanors.
As the case has unfolded the charges have shifted a couple of times. Immediately following the incident, police charged de Groat with two counts of second-degree attempted assault, a felony, and resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. In Ithaca City Court a few weeks later, the district attorney’s office offered to reduce the charges to two counts of second-degree obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, misdemeanors, which de Groat pleaded not guilty to on May 1. The DA’s office then presented the case to a grand jury in Tompkins County Court, and the grand jury — made up of 23 Tompkins County residents — chose to indict de Groat on June 6 on two counts of second-degree attempted assault, second-degree obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest.
Meanwhile, Ferguson rejected a plea deal in Ithaca City Court on Friday and continues to face misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
The man accused of groping a young woman on the Commons was not arrested April 6 and has not been charged with any crimes, though that could change. In body camera footage, the man, who an officer calls Joseph, says he is visiting Ithaca while his son tries out for the Cornell wrestling team and the conversation ends with officers pointing him toward his hotel. During the exchange an officer can be seen recording information from the man’s ID.
In Tompkins County Court on Monday, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said his office is investigating the groping, which he said is related to de Groat’s case as a precursor to her interactions with police.
“The events that gave rise to the charges were the allegations that a young woman was groped on the Commons on April 6 shortly after the bars let out. My office is undertaking to investigate the potential sexual groping of the young woman,” Van Houten said in court. He added that they had learned the identity of the woman who was groped and said, “we are making efforts to speak to her so that we can properly investigate that.”
Because de Groat was a witness, he said he hoped to speak with her during the investigation with the assistance of her defense attorney.
However, Attorney Edward Kopko, who is representing de Groat along with Jerome Mayersak, said the defense team would not be cooperating with the district attorney’s investigation at this point. “There was an opportunity to properly investigate this, and it was passed by,” he said.
“It’s appalling that they’re only now doing this investigation after my client has already been indicted for felonies,” Kopko added outside the courthouse Monday. “Don’t forget, Mr. Van Houten came out with a public statement that he personally viewed all the videos and he personally decided to reduce them to misdemeanors. How does that jibe with now him personally presenting the case to the grand jury to crank up the charges? How does that work?”
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.” He said then the evidence supported misdemeanors as the top charges.
Van Houten declined to comment on the indictment last week but said Monday that his office would be investigating the alleged groping regardless of whether de Groat and her legal team cooperate.
Following the arraignment Monday morning, several people addressed the crowd gathered at the bottom of the courthouse steps with calls to keep pressure on the Ithaca Police Department and district attorney and to bolster de Groat and Ferguson with community support.
“A community of our peers indicted Rose,” Nicole LaFave, a Black Lives Matter organizer and Ithaca City School District Board of Education member said to the crowd. “We need to continue this conversation every day.”
Referring to the different charges and plea deals put forth by the district attorney’s office, Black Lives Matter Ithaca organizer Russell Rickford said, “we don’t want their leniency, we want justice,” adding that justice would mean dropping all charges and paying reparations.
Phoebe Brown, the regional coordinator of the Alliance of Families for Justice, urged attendees to keep the pressure for racial justice on the city not just at the courthouse, but everywhere they go, echoing a chant that broke out outside Ferguson’s hearing last Friday: “All day, every day.”
De Groat’s next court appearance has not been scheduled. If the case proceeds to a trial, Judge John Rowley said it could be several months until it is scheduled. Addressing the full courtroom gallery, Rowley said he’s aware of the heightened community concern around this case and that the court would move forward deliberately toward the resolution of the charges against de Groat. Ferguson is next due in Ithaca City Court on Aug. 2.
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