SCHENECTADY — A lengthier video of an arrest that showed a city police officer appearing to kneel on a suspect’s neck has emerged.
New footage shows the officer punching Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud six times, his knee on the neck of the suspect as Gaindarpersaud wailed and writhed Monday on a concrete slab.
“Put your hands behind your back,” said the officer while extending a pair of handcuffs.
After repeatedly telling Gaindarpersaud’s father Jaindra Gaindarpersaud — who filmed the altercation — to back up, the officer lifted Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud’s right leg and began punching him in the torso, yelling, “Put your hands behind your [expletive] back.”
While Gaindarpersaud had been squirming, he was not moving at the time the officer began to deliver the blows.
As the officer punched him, Jaindra and Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud’s wife yelled in protest.
Once the officer stopped punching, he called to off-screen officers that he was in the backyard, which was still festooned with red, white and blue balloons from the Fourth of July.
Approximately 20 seconds later, two additional officers approached, one of whom secured Gaindarpersaud’s legs while the other placed him in handcuffs.
Once secured, only then did the officer remove his knee from Gaindarpersaud’s neck area.
Two additional officers approached and told Jaindra to back up further before Gaindarpersaud was pulled to his feet, led away in handcuffs and placed into a patrol car parked farther down North Brandywine Avenue nearly outside of the camera’s range.
The initial altercation appeared to last just over two minutes, although it’s unclear how long Gaindarpersaud was being pinned to the ground before his father began filming.
City police have declined to identify the officer.
The remainder of the nine-minute, nine-second video depicts Jaindra repeatedly asking the officers milling around his driveway and backyard if they had a warrant, all of whom appeared to ignore him.
The footage was posted on social media late Monday and is a continuation of the 23-second video clip Jaindra initially released earlier that morning, prompting an investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.
City police were initially called to the residence to investigate a neighborhood dispute over slashed tires.
Gaindarpersaud, 31, maintains his innocence and was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct.
City police on Tuesday defended the officer’s actions, and said they may release body camera footage as early as Wednesday.
Chief Eric Clifford did not directly address the series of punches when asked by The Daily Gazette about the new footage, but said Gaindarpersaud was resisting arrest “both actively and passively” and was ignoring commands.
“The goal of law enforcement during a combative encounter should be to gain control of the subject, situation and achieve custody without causing injury,” Clifford said. “At no time did the officer attempt to impair Mr. Gaindarpersaud’s breathing or blood circulation. The officer was alone and attempting to gain control of the continually struggling Mr. Gaindarpersaud.”
The city banned knee-to-neck holds along with chokeholds in an executive order last month.
Clifford disputes the officer’s knee was on the suspect’s neck, but rather his head, and the technique was necessary for restraint.
“This officer briefly placed his knee on Mr. Gaindarpersaud’s head to maintain control of the subject while calling for help and giving repeated commands to Mr. Gaindarpersaud’s family to back up,” Clifford said. “The officer holds the head of Mr. Gaindarpersaud to the ground only as long as necessary to get him handcuffed and immediately releases it once backup officers arrive.”
The altercation arrives at a time of national reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism fueled by a series of fatal police encounters with unarmed Black people, many of them captured on smartphones — including George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.
There have been protests nationwide against police brutality since Floyd’s death. The violence that accompanied some of the earliest protests has died down, but mostly peaceful protests have continued. The Capital Region is continuing to see demonstrations, including a half-dozen in Schenectady. Another is planned for Monday.
The officer’s actions drew swift condemnation from the Schenectady NAACP and community activist group All of Us, which said the encounter is strikingly similar to the events that ultimately led to Floyd’s death.
Throughout the incident, Gaindarpersaud repeatedly cried and told officers his head hurt.
Activists protested outside of police headquarters on Monday, calling for the officer to be fired and for further reforms.
City Councilwoman and Schenectady NAACP member Marion Porterfield reviewed the new footage and called the officer’s actions “excessive,” but stopped short of calling for his termination.
“I know he was squirming, but he was squirming because he was on his neck,” Porterfield said, who also criticized the officers appearing to ignore Jaindra’s questioning. “Perhaps discipline is needed, and review of tactics and training when it comes to interacting with the public.”
Gaindarpersaud on Tuesday said he was beginning to lose consciousness at the time the officer began punching him in the ribs and stomach.
“I could do nothing, said Gaindarpersaud, who said he blacked out after being placed in the patrol car and woke up at Ellis Hospital.
For activists, the footage also served as evidence that while the department has pledged to be responsive to community concerns, those practices have failed to materialize at the ground level.
Clifford said the officer transporting Gaindarpersaud alerted medics. Clifford disputed that Gaindarpersaud lost consciousness, both at the scene and during transit to police headquarters. He said Gaindarpersaud made an attempt to break free once reaching the police car, which he walked to on his own.
“Upon arrival at police headquarters, Mr. Gaindarpersaud was conscious and immediately evaluated by Schenectady Fire Department paramedics then transported to Ellis Hospital for treatment,” Clifford said.
All of Us organizer Jamaica Miles questioned the department’s track record in caring for minority suspects, citing the death of Andrew Kearse in 2017, who pleaded for help in the back of a police cruiser before succumbing to a heart attack.
While the officer was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury, the city settled a $1.3 million lawsuit with his widow last August.
POLICIES UNDER MICROSCOPE
The city released its use of force policy without fanfare on May 27 — two days after Floyd’s death.
The policy contains over a dozen factors for police to consider when applying force, including the seriousness of the suspected offense, proximity of weapons, “degree to which the individual has been effectively restrained” and whether the conduct of the suspect “no longer reasonably appears to pose an imminent threat to the officer.”
According to city police, Gaindarpersaud “pulled away” during his initial questioning from the officer and fled into his backyard, leading to a struggle in which the officer lost his radio and asked a nearby witness to call police.
Gaindarpersaud contends he simply turned around when questioned about his neighbor’s tires that had been slashed, and was walking briskly but was not running.
All of Us and Schenectady NAACP are calling for further police reforms, including changes to the Civilian Police Review Board, the civilian panel tasked with investigating police misconduct.
Schenectady NAACP wants the nine-member panel to have independent investigative and subpoena powers, both capabilities it currently lacks, while All of Us is calling for the body to have “full access to unredacted files and evidence and the power to submit to the attorney general for further review, investigation and potential charges.”
Gaindarpersaud said on Tuesday he plans to press charges against the officer, but hadn’t yet consulted with an attorney.
Clifford urged the public to be patient and not draw conclusions during an investigation of the incident.
“The release of a partial clip of video and a photo unfortunately tend to drive a wedge between the community and police,” Clifford said. “I would ask that at this time the public be patient with the current probe and trust that once all information is reviewed the appropriate action will immediately be taken by this agency.”