Schenectady County

Schenectady police-abuse video shows kicking incident

The city has released an in-car video that documents a former police officer kicking a handcuffed ma

The city has released an in-car video that documents a former police officer kicking a handcuffed man during an arrest. The video release comes as the city’s attorney is now willing to make public far more information about its police than ever before.

The 27-second video shows Officer Gregory Hafensteiner kicking a suspect, Donald Randolph, during a 2007 arrest. Hafensteiner resigned Sunday, a day before the mayor was going to fire him.

The video was one of many pieces of evidence considered by Hearing Officer Jeffrey Selchick, who recommended firing Hafensteiner.

Selchick’s full report will never be released, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said. But he has decided that evidence used at the hearing can be released to the public.

Previously, the city kept most information about its police secret, under the belief that state law required that. But Van Norden is now taking a closer look at the law that covers police personnel records, and he’s decided it doesn’t apply to some city records that have been used to justify firing officers. “The law is quite specific,” he said.

Among other items, the law makes secret any documents created to determine whether an officer should be promoted or demoted, he said. “This particular video was not generated for that purpose,” Van Norden said. “It’s a routine recording. While it is relevant to the prosecution, once a determination is made, it no longer has that purpose. It goes back to being a city record.”

He began analyzing the limits of the law recently. “We’re trying to be as transparent as we possibly can,” he said.

The full recording is 20 minutes long, but Hafensteiner only appears for 27 seconds, he said. The rest of the recording consists of audio from Officer Andrew Karaskiewicz’s microphone, and will be released after Selchick finishes a report on Karaskiewicz.

The event that led to the video and disciplinary action against Hafensteiner was a drunk-driving arrest and subsequent felony charge against Randolph. That took place Dec. 7, 2007, at the McDonald’s on Union Street. Randolph eventually pleaded to aggravated unauthorized operation of a motor vehicle and was sentenced to time served, seven days, and $700 in fines.

He filed a notice of claim against the city in 2008 alleging excessive force; he was not injured seriously in the incident. The status of the claim was not available Thursday.

Randolph has said he was beaten by multiple officers during the arrest and transport to the city Police Headquarters.

The video portion that the city released Thursday is difficult to see. Hafensteiner can only be seen as a shadow, but it’s clear he kicked at Randolph at least three times, missing at least once. Two other kicks appear to connect. He appears to kick Randolph’s head and then his shoulder or neck. At that point, Randolph is pulled out of the patrol car away from Hafensteiner.

Commissioner of Public Safety Wayne Bennett Thursday said even one kick at an unarmed, cuffed suspect is grounds for termination.

“It doesn’t make any difference. There’s absolutely no reason any kicks should be delivered,” he said. “If you don’t enforce these kind of rules, you might as well not have a system.”

Hafensteiner also did not file a form reporting his use of force. City officials say he was trying to cover up the incident.

That ethical breach was just as wrong as the kicks, Bennett said, and contributed significantly to the decision to fire him.

But he added that Hafensteiner might have been fired if he’d reported his actions.

“There is no way he could have filled out the use of force form [truthfully] that would not have failed the test,” Bennett said.

The city also wants to fire Karaskiewicz for his role in the alleged beating of Randolph. The released video does not show any punches, but Randolph can be heard crying out several times as soon as he is pulled from Karaskiewicz’s patrol car.

The recording begins with Karaskiewicz talking to Randolph, who is handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. Hafensteiner’s voice can also be heard. Neither officer can be seen.

It appears that Randolph had been arguing with the officers, because the recording starts with Karaskiewicz saying, “You’re coming down to the police station, so it don’t matter what you’re doing.”

Hafensteiner then says, “Get out of the car,” and Randolph answers with a loud, “No!”

The police react immediately. Karaskiewicz grabs Randolph by the neck with both hands, pulling his head toward the doorway while ordering him to get out. Hafensteiner says, “No? Oh my god,” and walks to the other side of the car.

Meanwhile, Randolph says he will get out of the car, but appears to be fighting Karaskiewicz’s neck-hold. Karaskiewicz lets go and begins pulling on Randolph’s feet, which Bennett said was the approved technique for moving a resisting prisoner.

Randolph falls backward as Karaskiewicz grabs his feet, putting his head near the other door.

Although Karaskiewicz is pulling Randolph out, he tells Hafensteiner, “He’s refusing to get out.”

Hafensteiner pulls open the other door and appears to kick Randolph in the head. Karaskiewicz pulls Randolph out as Hafensteiner kicks Randolph again, this time appearing to hit him in the neck or shoulder. He misses on his third kick as Randolph gets out of the car.

Immediately, while Hafensteiner is still on the other side of the car, Randolph cries out three times. Shadows can be seen moving in the doorway, but it’s not clear whether Randolph has actually been hit.

If he was struck, those blows could not have come from Hafensteiner, who was too far away to reach him immediately but appears to be moving quickly in that direction. The only other officer accused of hitting Randolph is Karaskiewicz.

Randolph says he was beaten by multiple officers after Karaskiewicz took him out of the patrol car. Van Norden said there is no video of that incident, but noises can be heard.

“You can’t tell who was doing what,” he said.

Until Karaskiewicz’s discipline is decided, Van Norden will not release that portion of the recording.

But he said the recording will be released afterward, regardless of the disposition of Karaskiewicz’s case.

Selchick can recommend termination, a 60-day suspension without pay, or no punishment.

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