Schenectady

Probe continues into Schenectady police altercation

In-car footage shows suspect slumped in backseat
Screenshot from video released by Schenectady Police Department.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Screenshot from video released by Schenectady Police Department.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — The internal probe into a controversial arrest that saw a city police officer kneel on a suspect’s neck area and punch him a half-dozen times on Monday remains ongoing.

While the investigation is still open, city Mayor McCarthy said Friday he has “concerns regarding the thoroughness of the preliminary investigation prior to the arrest being made.”

“I have referred the matter to the Police Chief and Commissioner of Public Safety for potential disciplinary recommendations based upon any department policies that may have been violated,” McCarthy said in a released statement.

New footage released by city police Friday afternoon reveals Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud, who is suspected of slashing his neighbor’s tires, appearing to nod off in the back of a patrol car during his transport to police headquarters.

Gaindarpersaud, who contends he lost consciousness, appeared largely unresponsive during the five-minute ride from his North Brandywine Avenue home, where he was taken into custody by Officer Brian Pommer following their tussle.

After being tossed into the back of the car, the handcuffed Gaindarpersaud initially answered Officer Chris Wilgocki’s questions, but slumped down, his head bowed between his legs and out of vision of the camera’s frame.

“I gotta go to the doctor,” Gaindarpersaud said. 

“Sir, did you say you need the paramedics?” Wilgocki said.

“I think they broke my neck,” Gaindarpersaud said before slumping over for roughly two minutes, 30 seconds.

Wilgocki radioed for paramedics.


Upon arrival at police headquarters, Gaindarpersaud appeared alert but sluggish when officers asked him to exit the vehicle.

“We got the paramedics on the way for you, OK?” said one.

After conferring amongst themselves, the three officers ultimately agreed to wait for the paramedics to arrive.

Minutes later when told he needed to stay awake, Gaindarpersaud said: “I’m not sleeping. I’m in pain.”

Medics arrived, and the 15-minute clip cut out before revealing how Gaindarpersaud ultimately exited the vehicle.

Chief Eric Clifford said the department stands by its position that Gaindarpersaud never lost consciousness, noting Pommer detected an odor of alcohol during the encounter.

“There may have been an alcoholic component that may have led to him putting his head down,” Clifford said.

Clifford has said the probe won’t just focus on the altercation itself, which garnered immediate outrage from community activists and civil rights groups when footage surfaced on social media, but the entire encounter, including Pommer’s initial investigation. 

Police on Wednesday released footage of a lengthy exchange between Pommer and the neighbor who said he had footage implicating Gaindarpersaud.

The neighbor said he didn’t want to press charges if Gaindarpersaud paid restitution and left him alone, but ultimately conceded he’d be willing to do so if the suspect refused.

Pommer attempted to take Gaindarpersaud into custody after he demanded to see evidence, sparking a brief foot pursuit that resulted in the altercation.

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Clifford acknowledged Pommer didn’t review the footage before confronting him but watched it after the arrest.

“He did not view the video prior to making the arrest,” Clifford said. “His basis for detainment was the complainant’s statement that he had observed on video the suspect slashing the tires.”

Gaindarpersaud has been charged with criminal mischief and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, court records show.

McCarthy said the Office of Professional Standards and the Schenectady County District Attorney are “continuing to finalize their full review” of the entire incident.

Pommer, a seven-year veteran of the department, has been temporarily assigned to desk duty.

Despite the ongoing investigation, the city has swiftly announced a spate of police reforms this week, including banning head holds, boosting de-escalation training, and pledging to reform the Civilian Police Review Board.

“In addition to the reforms announced yesterday, we continue to have ongoing community conversations that serve to strengthen dialogue and build trust,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy and Clifford met with Schenectady Clergy Against Hate in what they characterized as the first in a series of “productive conversations to discuss the role of the faith community among wider issues of policing and racial injustice.”

The altercation has ignited intense public debate and scrutiny as the nation continues to grapple with racial unrest.

Activists and civil rights groups say while Gaindarpersaud was not fatally injured, the altercation parallels the sequence of events that led to the death of George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and that Pommer instead should have de-escalated the situation.

But Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Isaacs said viewpoints aren’t unanimous in the neighborhood.

“A lot of people agree with what the police did, but they’re afraid to come out and say they agree with police officers,” Isaacs said Friday.

 

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