Board members looking for answers about graduation arrest

Man charged in scuffle with police
A still from the video.
A still from the video.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

An altercation in the Proctors arcade during Schenectady High School’s graduation on Friday may spark a broader conversation about how the annual event is managed and whether the school district is outgrowing the downtown venue.

But district officials and school board members on Monday largely deferred questions about the broader implications raised by the incident until they had a chance to learn more about what exactly happened.

“It is something we should have a discussion about going forward,” board member Dharam Hitlall said Monday.

While Schenectady’s graduation played out in joyous excitement inside the Proctors Theater Friday morning, frustrated family members and friends were barred from entering after the ceremony started at 9 a.m. sharp. Tensions and tempers flared with ushers and district staff as people pleaded to be allowed inside, and in one instance resulted in a violent arrest captured on video and shared widely on social media.

In the video, a Schenectady police officer can be seen throwing multiple punches at Clifton R. Rock, 43, as he and another officer detained Rock. Police said the video did not capture the beginning of the incident, that Rock refused to stop cursing and attempted to strike an officer after police asked him to calm down.

Rock made a brief court appearance — about 30 seconds long — on Monday before Judge Robert Hoffman in Schenectady City Court. He faces charges of resisting arrest, third-degree menacing and disorderly conduct and is due back in court on July 14 for a preliminary hearing.

On Monday, Rock had his right arm in a sling, which his attorney said was to treat a sprain and bruising caused by his arrest Friday. He appeared to be alone, flanked only by his attorney, assistant public defender Heather Gray. Gray declined to comment on the case.

Schenectady school board members on Monday said they were still trying to learn more about what exactly unfolded outside the theater – they said they could hear the commotion from their seats onstage – and whether district policy or protocol could help minimize tension in the future.

Graduates are each granted four tickets and attendees were expected to be in their seats by 9 a.m., when the processional of graduates started. People who showed up, with or without a ticket, after 9 a.m. were not allowed into the theater, district spokeswoman Karen Corona said Friday. Parents were informed of this prior to the event, she said.

“I think the [late arrivals] policy is valid, and I think it makes it a manageable event,” Board President Cathy Lewis said Monday. “It’s printed on the ticket that it starts at 9, and we have to honor the fact that a very high percentage of people [arrive on time].”

Corona on Monday said it was “premature” for Superintendent Larry Spring to discuss Friday’s incident because it was still under review.

Friday’s incident may also raise questions about whether the district is running up against capacity problems at Proctors.

The math is undeniable: If the district continues to improve its graduation rate, as is the district’s goal, demand for the event will continue to grow. While students are limited to four tickets for the event, Hitlall said he had heard that students were making unauthorized copies of tickets prior to graduation.

“It is possible maybe we have gotten too big for Proctors and maybe it’s time to look at another location,” board member Mark Snyder said Monday.

But alternative venues may be few and far between. In previous years, district officials have looked into alternative sites but have stuck with Proctors. Board members said they don’t want to move the event too far away for Schenectady families, and no one could think of an indoor venue in Schenectady larger than Proctors, which holds nearly 2,700 in the main theater and another 434 in the GE Theater, which was set up for overflow on Friday. At nearly 500 graduates multiplied by four tickets a graduate, the theater can quickly fill up.

Proctors CEO Philip Morris also said he was working to understand what exactly occurred on Friday. He said the district was responsible for determining the protocols for who got tickets to the event and when people would and wouldn’t be allowed into the theater. He said he would continue to discuss with district leaders how the event can best be run in the future.

“No one wants a repeat of the incident that happened from anyone’s point of view,” Morris said Monday. “We are trying to unwrap and see what happened.”

Gazette reporter Brett Samuels contributed to this report.

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