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Moving forward after charges were dismissed against Rose DeGroat

first_img ITHACA, N.Y. — Last week, a Tompkins County judge dismissed charges against Rose DeGroat. Her case, and that of Cadji Ferguson, had been closely watched by the public. Now that the charges have been dismissed comes the question, how does the community move forward?For members of the community who protested on behalf of DeGroat and Ferguson, they are celebrating the dismissal of charges, but want to see reparations and more police accountability. On Thursday, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten and Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor convened a press conference to discuss the case, and both said they would be open to a community forum, something that was previously suggested by Mayor Svante Myrick.The charges against Rose DeGroat were dismissed following an omnibus motion filed by her attorneys Edward Kopko and Jerome Mayersak. Judge John Rowley issued the decision Sept. 27. She had been facing two counts of felony second-degree attempted assault and two misdemeanors in connection with an altercation that took place April 6 on the Ithaca Commons.District Attorney Matthew Van Houten: ‘It is unfortunate the neither of these young people ever took responsibility for his or her actions’Van Houten began his statement by saying, “At no point was it my goal or desire for either of these young individuals to be criminalized or incarcerated as a result of this proceeding. What I did want was for them to do was to accept responsibility for their actions.”You can read the full statement from Van Houten here, and the full statement from Nayor here.From left, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten and Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice) From left, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten and Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)He said his goal Thursday was to speak the truth. “It may not fit the published narrative, but the truth is the truth and I will not compromise my integrity to assuage the well-intentioned but misinformed community members who were told a story that was not based in reality,” he said. Van Houten said he had been willing to resolve the case with restorative justice, to improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement, but he said mediation requires honesty, and one of the major issues he said he had was the claim that an older white man had groped a woman, but was not investigated by police.He said he investigated that claim, despite the DeGroat’s defense team not cooperating, and said if there was any evidence to support it, the district attorney’s office would have filed charges against him. “No one ever came forward and said that they had been groped. Without that evidence, it’s impossible to file charges.”He said when he learned about the false claim, “I knew that restorative justice was not a realistic option. Good faith and honesty, and acceptance of responsibility were essential components of a potential mediation. Without them, the process would have been hollow and meaningless.”Ferguson, 26, was facing a lesser charge of disorderly conduct and had a bench trial in August. The judge found Ferguson was justified in punching a man who was threatening, and he was found not guilty. Ferguson and his brother testified at his trial that they were standing with a group of friends, including DeGroat, on the Commons when a drunk, threatening man came up behind them and was standing with his body a couple of inches from a woman. He testified that at the time he thought the man touched his friend but was not sure if contact occurred.• Read more from the testimony: Cadji Ferguson found not guilty of disorderly conduct in Commons caseVan Houten also addressed why he changed his mind on reducing DeGroat’s charges. In May, he said in an interview with The Ithaca Voice that after reviewing evidence, he determined the appropriate charges were misdemeanors. However he said after much more consideration and research, he was not convinced they should have been reduced, so he brought the case to a grand jury so they could make a determination. Then ultimately after more legal research and debate, he decided the felony charges should be dismissed.Now that the court process is over, Van Houten said he is disappointed neither DeGroat nor Ferguson “ever took responsibility for his or her actions.” But he said he is willing to engage in difficult conversations moving forward, including in a community forum.‘We all agree the struggle is not over’A community coalition including Black Lives Matter Ithaca, the Multicultural Resource Center and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Injustice celebrated the news of charges being dropped, saying it would not have been possible “without grassroots mobilization.”Since the incident and initial charges in April, members of the community consistently filled courtrooms for DeGroat and Cadji Ferguson, whose charges were dropped after a trial, as well as Common Council Chambers, and held rallies and protests to keep public attention on the cases.Cornell Professor Russell Rickford addresses a crowd that protested outside the Tompkins County Courthouse on Sept. 20. (Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice) Your Crime & Courts news is made possible with support from: Tagged: cadji ferguson, dennis nayor, district attorney, ithaca police department, matthew van houten, rose degroat Kelsey O’Connor Though the charges have been dropped, the coalition said in a news release Sept. 28 that the fight is still not over. Cornell professor Russell Rickford stated, “We all agree that the struggle is not over! We will not stop fighting until we win reparations for Rose and Cadji and end the larger pattern of racist, militarized policing.”Ferguson and DeGroat are no longer facing criminal charges, but have still suffered consequences, the coalition said. Ferguson lost his job and his lease was not renewed. The coalition said both faced physical and emotional trauma and may still face impacts in the future when employers Google their names.Demonstrators lay on the street in front of Tompkins County Courthouse on Friday, Sept. 20. (Photo by Jacob Mroczek/The Ithaca Voice)‘We are continually working towards building relationships with all segments of the community’At the press conference Thursday, Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor said police are just one part of the criminal justice system, and though they do not always agree with how a case is settled, “we must respect our system of justice, even when we are disappointed by the outcomes in court.”He described how police first interpreted the scene, that they witnessed a man “violently strike another man in the face” and intervened. Nayor said police are forced to make “split-second decisions” and the ability to know all the pertinent details of any situation is a “luxury that responding officers will never have and nonetheless, our officers consistently make the right decisions more often than not.”Nayor reiterated that the department had conducted an internal investigation into the incident and the investigative findings indicated “the force used was in accordance with policy and legal standards, with some training identified and appropriately addressed.” Asked to elaborate on the training opportunities that were identified, Nayor said they are always looking to try to better control situations that start prior to their arrival as quickly as possible.“As much as I cannot expect people to understand how difficult it is to be a police officer, it must be acknowledged that one cannot understand what it is like to be a person of color, if they are not, during these turbulent times. We live in a society of racial disparity and polarization with societal tensions which are palpable. When the actions of law enforcement anywhere are perceived to be rooted in racism, there is work to be done,” Nayor said. “The officers at IPD and the supervisory and command staff are committed to creating an environment in which all persons can feel safe and respected.”At last week’s Common Council meeting, police officers came forward with a statement saying public comments by Mayor Svante Myrick and city officials, as well as the judicial decision to dismiss the charges, has hurt officers’ morale and impacted their safety.Several members of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, which represents 56 police officers, investigators, sergeants and lieutenants at the IPD, attended last week’s Common Council meeting to address Mayor Svante Myrick and Common Council.“No question, when our members come to work each day to serve this community, they are putting themselves in harm’s way. We understand that, but expect and hope that we will go home safe and alive to our families, friends and loved ones. We had always believed and hoped that our elected city leaders felt the same way – that we should go home at the end of our shift the same way we started: healthy, safe, intact, unharmed, without scrapes, bruises, twisted ankles or lacerations, back injuries, or catastrophic traumatic injuries such as stab wounds or gunshot wounds. We would have expected and hoped that our city leaders would never have condoned brazen attacks on our members while performing their jobs,” the statement read.Officers said comments by Myrick accusing officers of being “racially motivated and biased” have destroyed the morale of police officers.“The City leadership and judiciary, by giving a free ride to an individual who attempted to stop an arrest and punched an officer repeatedly in the head, have sabotaged the safety of not only our Members but of the thousands of local residents, visitors, business owners and students who are part of the Ithaca community,” the statement read. “Since when does an arrest, even one that may be questioned, justify the assault of an Officer?”In August, Myrick said he believed it was wrong for the officers to kneel on DeGroat’s head while pinning her to the ground. He said it is never OK to swing at or strike an officer, but said based on footage and witness accounts, it did not appear the officers announced they were police before grabbing DeGroat. At the time, he said it was impossible to know what was happening in the officers’ minds as they approached Cadji Ferguson and DeGroat, but said race more likely than not influenced how the situation unfolded. “It’s very unlikely that implicit bias was not at play here. We live in a racist country. That is the nature of our system,” Myrick said in August.Moving forwardIn August, at a packed Common Council meeting, Myrick offered to host a community forum. At the press conference on Thursday, Nayor and Van Houten said they would be open to having difficult conversations. At this time, no forum has been formally scheduled.“To conclude, my decisions in this case were intended to cause a just result. Was justice accomplished? I don’t know. That depends on who you ask. But I am more than willing to engage in the difficult conversations that need to take place in order for our community to learn from this experience and I look forward to the community forum that the mayor promised would take place,” Van Houten said. Kelsey O’Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor. More by Kelsey O’Connorlast_img

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