Officer Michael Sippel and fellow RPD officer Spenser McAvoy were accused in a wrongful arrest case, which alleged that the two beat Christopher Pate on May 5, 2018. Pate said after providing his identification to the officers, he was grabbed, had a stun gun used on him, then was handcuffed and subsequently punched in the face, causing occipital bone and jaw fractures, as well as other damage to his mouth.
The case was determined to be one of mistaken identity, and all charges were dropped by Rochester City Court Judge Maija Dixon.
The Monroe County District Attorney's Office sent the case to a grand jury, which voted to indict Sippel on a third-degree assault charge. McAvoy was not charged. Sippel pleaded not guilty in November. "Specifically, the grand jury's allegation is that Officer Sippel, with the intent to cause a physical injury to another person, caused such injury to Christopher Pate," [MORE] In New York, the state constitution’s bill of rights requires that people who are charged with felonies be indicted by a Grand Jury in order for a criminal case to go forward. The Grand Jury is therefore the only authority that can decide whether or not a prosecution should go forward in a felony prosecution.
Defense attorney Clark Zimmerman had filed a motion to dismiss the case, but it was denied by Judge Thomas Morse on Tuesday morning.
Clark Zimmermann, the attorney for suspended Rochester police Officer Michael Sippel, argued in court papers that there is no video evidence to support an allegation from Christopher Pate that he was beaten by police after he was handcuffed during a May 5 confrontation.
The video "shows that no force was used on (Pate) after he was handcuffed and secured in the rear of a police vehicle," the court papers say.
Pate told grand jurors that he was "punched in the face" while handcuffed, Zimmermann said. [as if punching him w/o handcuffs is lawful conduct - impeachment is for trial, counsel]. The body camera footage has not been released to the public because it is secret.
City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse Tuesday refused to dismiss the criminal charge against Sippel, who faces up to a year in jail.
Christopher Pate, 37, said he was approached by white officers in an unmarked vehicle at Fulton Avenue and Bloss Street around 4:45 p.m. on May 5. Officers claimed that Pate matched the description of an individual on their "most wanted" board.
Pate said that after he provided his identification and proved he wasn't the person they were seeking, the officers continued to escalate the situation and initiated a physical confrontation.
According to Pate, the officers tased and handcuffed him then punched him repeatedly, breaking bones in his face.
“I saw the officer on top of him, beating him," said Tina Davis, who saw the incident happening right outside her front door on Fulton Avenue, near Bloss Street. "The guy was yelling and asking him why are they beating him, because he wasn’t resisting or anything, because he wasn’t. From that point on, they took him down to the ground and was on top of him and being real aggressive.” [MORE]
McAvoy wrote in his incident report that Pate fit the description of a wanted man who was black, had a thin build and a large forehead, and wore dreadlocks or braids. McAvoy reported that he got out of the cruiser and approached Pate, who was on the south side of the street.
“(Pate) changed his direction of travel, wouldn’t look at me, and began to walk northbound across Bloss Street and in doing so impeded the vehicular traffic of a gray Honda sedan that was traveling eastbound on Bloss,” McAvoy wrote.
McAvoy wrote that he asked Pate whether he had identification, to which Pate reportedly replied, “Have a good day, officer.”
“This exchange happened several times and then I grabbed (Pate) by the hand, at which point he told me that I had no reason to stop him,” McAvoy wrote.
His report went on to read that Pate showed a public assistance card that revealed Pate was not the wanted man.
In the meantime, Pate went on his way, only to be confronted from behind by Sippel, who asked Pate to stop and show his identification. According to the report, he refused to stop and kept walking eastbound, this time on the north side of Bloss, before turning north onto Fulton.
“In front of 75 Fulton Ave. we caught up to (Pate),” McAvoy wrote. “After a use of force (Pate) was taken into custody.” [MORE]
According to a police report Pate showed identification that revealed Pate was not the wanted man - but instead of releasing him, the stop continued and therefore the questionable stop became unlawful. [MORE]
Mayor Lovely Warren and former Police Chief Michael Ciminelli have said the video showed evidence of clear misconduct by police officers in the arrest of Pate, who was wrongly identified as a suspect in an assault and a burglary.
"What I saw not only angered me and troubled me but hurt me to my heart," Warren said. "In this country and this city in particular, people with this kind of authority must be held accountable."
Pate was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but those charges were dismissed a few days later in City Court. District Attorney Sandra Doorley said a judge dismissed the charges, deciding that they were "defectively drafted by the police."
Sippel has been suspended without pay.
Michael Mazzeo, the president of the Rochester Locust Club police union, said Tuesday that the officers acted properly and were upset that Pate was injured. Police officers aren't helped by brutality allegations, he said. Police may be loath to use needed force, and the public may assume proper arrests were instances of excessive force, he said.
"We're sorry that Mr. Pate got hurt," Mazzeo said. "It affects us who are out there and have to engage in force.
"Had the complainant in this case, stopped and conversed this never would have happened. That’s it. Instead he strengthened Officer Sippel’s belief he was the wanted person by his actions, by trying to avoid police contact and by using defamatory language toward the officer," said Clark Zimmerman, Sippel's attorney.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.
Judge Morse is asking anyone with video footage of the incident to come forward.
The Rochester City Council introduced a draft bill this week that addresses police accountability. The bill would create a civilian-controlled Police Accountability Board with the power to investigate complaints from residents and to discipline officers who the board determines have abused people. Rochester would be the first municipality in New York State — and one of just a handful in the country — with a civilian board that has the power to discipline officers. [MORE]