Witness: Police said man who died in custody was ‘faking’

'They told me he was faking. Nothing was wrong with him'
Susan Perry, girlfriend of Andrew Kearse, speaks to reporters about Kearse's death in police custody, May 12, 2017.
Susan Perry, girlfriend of Andrew Kearse, speaks to reporters about Kearse's death in police custody, May 12, 2017.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — The girlfriend of the man who died in police custody Thursday evening said Friday that police didn’t believe him when he said he was having trouble breathing.

Susan Perry, 38, of Ward Avenue, was arrested along with her boyfriend, Andrew Kearse, late Thursday afternoon and said she witnessed Kearse’s condition at the police station.

“I seen Andrew and the other car, and the two police officers were dragging him out of the car like an animal,” Perry told reporters near her residence late Friday morning, “and he was lying on the ground motionless. When I called his name multiple times, he didn’t respond. He was looking up at the sky, not blinking, motionless.”

Perry spoke with reporters the day after Kearse, 36, died in police custody.

[Schenectady police: Man died after being taken into custody]

City police have handed over the investigation into what happened to state police. That agency’s inquiry is ongoing.

City police said late Thursday evening that officers were trying to stop Kearse for a traffic violation. He pulled into Perry’s driveway, got out and ran into the backyard. 

Officers caught up with him, arrested him and drove him to the police station. 

En route, Kearse complained of breathing problems and said he felt dizzy, a city police statement read.  

“Upon arrival at the police department, he was unresponsive, and paramedics from the Schenectady Fire Department were immediately called to render treatment,” the city police statement read.

Kearse died later at Ellis Hospital.

Perry, who was charged with misdemeanor obstructing governmental administration, said she asked the officers completing her paperwork what was wrong with Kearse. 

“They told me he was faking. Nothing was wrong with him,” she said. 

She estimated she was in the police station for more than 15 minutes before she saw an officer come in to retrieve an automated external defibrillator machine. The devices are used in medical emergencies where a person’s heart has stopped. Moments later, she said, she heard the ambulance arrive.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford issued a brief statement Friday.

“Our agency is cooperating fully with this investigation and has every intention of being transparent to the community regarding all the facts related to this incident. The investigation needs to be completed and reported upon by the NYSP before any further comments can be made.”

An autopsy was being conducted and was expected to be completed Friday, Clifford said.

State police said later Friday that the investigation was still in its early stages.

“The Schenectady Police Department has provided unfettered access for this investigation into the events leading up to Mr. Kearse’s death and is cooperating fully,” the agency said, in a prepared statement.

City police officers routinely wear microphones connected to their in-car cameras. In-car cameras also generally capture video and audio of the back seat of police cars during transports. The department also has multiple cameras and some microphones at the station.

It was unclear Friday what video or audio was available to investigators looking into Kearse’s death.

Terry Cuzdey, who is a neighbor of Perry’s, said he was home watching television late Thursday afternoon when he heard a commotion outside. Specifically, he heard tires squealing and police radios, he said.

He went outside in time to hear some of the interaction between police and the man being pursued, he said.

“I heard someone yelling, ‘You’re hurting me, you’re hurting me! You broke my leg!'” Cuzdey said.

He said three officers asked him if they could go through his yard. He also said one officer told him, in an apparent reference to Cuzdey’s phone, “I would put that away.”

Cuzdey said he never actually saw the man police were pursuing, either during the chase or after he was taken into custody.

But he did see some officers initially had their guns drawn, and one entered the neighboring home from the back porch, as a young child exited to the porch.

Cuzdey estimated seven or eight police cars responded. 

He said state police interviewed him Friday morning about what he saw. He said they relayed to him that the man who was arrested spoke with officers briefly in the driveway after the traffic stop before the man suddenly went inside the home.

In addition to the obstructing charge, Perry was processed at the station on a second-degree harassment charge, which is a violation, according to court records.

The latter charge accuses her of placing her hands on an officer “in an attempt to prevent the arrest” of Kearse at her 157 Ward Ave. address. Kearse is identified by name in court documents related to her arrest.

Perry said officers arrested her because she “didn’t want them to kick the door in, and the officer pushed me, slammed the cuffs on my hands and pushed me onto the bench in front of my house.”

Perry said she was not with Kearse during the traffic stop. She was inside the house when he ran in.

She was released and is due back in court Monday.

Two officers are referenced on Perry’s court paperwork. Sgt. Dean DeMartino is identified as the officer who made the accusations against Perry. Officer Brandon Kietlinski is listed as the arresting officer.

Perry said she knew Kearse for about a year. She said she didn’t know why he would flee from police, other than a general distrust of them.

State inmate and parole databases indicate Kearse was wanted by state parole officers after he completed a Bronx-based grand larceny sentence on April 26. He is listed in the parole database as “absconded,” and his parole officer is listed as being based in the Bronx.

Kearse has a large family, including nine children, Perry said. She also said he was in perfect health. 

“He was a very good man — a very good father,” Perry said.

“All they told me was a traffic violation. So my thing is that’s a 36-year-old man with nine kids who is dead over a traffic violation,” Perry said, her voice becoming emotional.

She said she had already spoken with state police investigators.

“I would believe, I would hope that they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do,” Perry said of the state police investigation.

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