Schenectady

Schenectady police officer breaks silence on in-custody death of Andrew Kearse

Weekes has been on leave since July
Schenectady Police Officer Mark Weekes is seen in this Gazette file photo
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Schenectady Police Officer Mark Weekes is seen in this Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY — Officer Mark Weekes knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to remain on the job as long as he was second-guessing himself.

More than a year after Andrew Kearse died in the custody of the Schenectady Police Department, Weekes said last week that he needed to take time to reassess not only his job, but his life.

“If you’re second-guessing yourself, you’re putting yourself and other people at risk,” said Weekes, who took a voluntary leave of absence from the force as a grand jury investigated Kearse’s death.

“I thought [going on leave] was best for everybody.”

Kearse, according to an autopsy, succumbed to heart failure after being apprehended by Schenectady police officers in May 2017. Weekes was the subject of the grand jury investigation because he drove Kearse to the police station after the arrest.

Kearse was unconscious upon arrival at the station and never regained consciousness.

The grand jury declined to file charges against Weekes.

Andrew Kearse and his wife, Angelique Negroni-Kearse. Credit: Provided

Weekes, speaking for the first time publicly about the case, said that, at the time of the incident, he believed he was making the right call.

“I did everything the way I believed it was supposed to be done at the time,” he said.

Kearse was arrested after fleeing from police — first in a vehicle and then on foot. After he was apprehended, and while being driven back to the police station, he told Weekes — 29 times during the ride to the station — that he could not breathe.

In-car video of the incident captured images of Kearse collapsing in the back of Weekes’ car less than a minute before reaching the police station.

The incident was investigated by the office of state Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who brought the case to a grand jury. Underwood later called for changes in police departments throughout the state, singling out the Schenectady department.

The time between Kearse’s death and the announcement of Underwood’s investigation was difficult, Weekes said.

He couldn’t help but wonder if he had done something wrong and began second-guessing himself on the job — something he said a police officer can’t afford to do. That is why he volunteered to go on leave.

He went back to his previous job, working with the 152nd Air Operations Group at the Hancock Field Air Force Base in Syracuse. He also made time to create a new bus service that he said will soon begin taking passengers from Schenectady to New York City.

Also Sunday: Schenectady Police Officer Weekes looks to launch bus service, Dec. 30, 2018

Weekes said he can’t speak directly about what happened during the Kearse incident because of a pending lawsuit filed by Kearse’s widow, Angelique Negroni-Kearse. That lawsuit also names the Police Department and the city of Schenectady.

When asked whether he would handle arrests like Kearse’s, in which suspects talk of medical distress, differently now, he said he would.

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“I’ll call for medical attention right away. I think all police officers will call for medical attention right away,” Weekes said. “As soon as someone says something, they’re going to call for medical attention right away because they are not going to want to go through what I went through.”

A bill (a11378A) was recently introduced by state Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, D-Bronx, that would make it a misdemeanor crime if an officer fails to provide medical assistance when a person in their custody is “displaying medical distress.”

It’s a bill Negroni-Kearse has thrown her support behind, saying it will “save a whole bunch of people.”

City Police Chief Eric Clifford previously said his department already has a policy that requires officers to get suspects medical treatment when they need it. But he wouldn’t comment on the policy as it related to Kearse’s case because of the lawsuit.

Weekes also said he could not speak about Kearse specifically, but he added that it would be hard to explain the incident even if he could speak about it. Doing so would require him to explain his experiences as a police officer for the past 10 years, he said.

“It’s hard to explain an incident like that to someone who is not pushing a police car every day and dealing with incidents all the time,” Weekes said. “It’s very easy for someone to look at a video and jump to conclusions.”

It was unclear this week when Weekes will return to the Police Department, though he said it will happen soon. He met with Clifford and city Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens on Thursday to discuss his return.

Neither Clifford nor Eidens were available to comment on this story.

Also Sunday: Schenectady Police Officer Weekes looks to launch bus service, Dec. 30, 2018

But Clifford previously said the department will work with Weekes to get him back on the street. Part of that will include getting him re-acquainted with the job, Clifford said.

Weekes said he needs to get back to work because it’s something he likes doing.

“I like being out in the community, and I like doing what I can to help people,” Weekes said. “It’s also what I know.”

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

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