SCHENECTADY — The union representing Schenectady city police is seeking to block the release of disciplinary records for the officer involved in a controversial arrest this summer.
The Schenectady Police Benevolent Association filed a lawsuit on behalf of Officer Brian Pommer seeking to block the release of records until a hearing later this month.
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from releasing the records until the Sept. 23 hearing, according to Albany Proper, which first reported on the injunction on Wednesday.
The Daily Gazette previously filed a Freedom of Information Law request for Pommer’s personnel records, but has not yet received a ruling from the city Corporation Counsel’s Office, which did not respond for comment on Wednesday seeking a status update.
The lawsuit filing has also been sealed as a result of the order.
Pommer knelt on Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud’s head and neck area on July 6 and punched him several times in the torso after he fled while being questioned about a report of slashed tires at a home on North Brandywine Avenue. A portion of the altercation which was filmed by Gaindarpersaud’s father and posted.
Protesters drew parallels between Gaindarpersaud’s arrest and the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, an event that sparked nationwide protests over racism and police brutality and breathed fresh momentum into activism surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement in Schenectady.
City police later released body-camera footage capturing events before and after the incident, including Gaindarpersaud fleeing from Pommer and his transport to police headquarters.
Authorities pledged to conduct a speedy internal investigation, which has been concluded, but the report detailing its conclusion has not yet been released.
Police Chief Eric Clifford initially said additional information would be released by late-August.
After that deadline passed, Clifford cited a spike in crime and police staffing changes as the reasons for the report’s delay, and said he wouldn’t release the report or comment on the investigation until the two misdemeanor charges Gaindarpersaud faces as a result of the altercation have been adjudicated.
Gaindarpersaud, who has pleaded not guilty to criminal mischief and resisting arrest, appeared in court last week and the case was adjourned to Sept. 29, according to his attorney, Derek S. Andrews.
The city, said Andrews, should be permitted to respond to FOIL requests accordingly, and that “any attempt to shield Officer Pommer’s disciplinary records continues to frustrate our ability to search for the truth of what happened and why it happened earlier this summer.”
“If their concern is protecting the disclosure of confidential information, FOIL has always protected private details of any person whose records might be subject to disclosure and it continues to do so,” Andrews said. “I don’t see argument that would or should block disclosure here.”
PBA President Det. PJ Mullin didn’t return a phone call seeking comment on Wednesday.
Activism following Floyd’s death prompted a series of statewide police reforms, including the repeal of 50-a, the statute long used by police departments to block the release of disciplinary and personnel records.
The campaign for its repeal gained momentum in 2014 following the death of Eric Garner at the hands of Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City police officer who placed him in a chokehold.
Records released following the repeal of the law by the state Legislature in June revealed Pantaleo had seven misconduct cases investigated against him in the five years before Garner’s death.
Since its repeal, several police unions, including the one in New York City, have sued to block release of disciplinary files, contending release of non-final and unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct would violate officers’ right to due process.
Government watchdogs disagree.
“The public is capable of differentiating between a complaint that is ‘substantiated’ or ‘unfounded,’” said Paul Wolf, president of the New York Coalition For Open Government. “Police officers have significant responsibility and power and the public must have confidence in the disciplinary systems in place to ensure that individual officers are not abusing their power. The only way to ensure public confidence and accountability is by being completely transparent and releasing all disciplinary records.”
The activist group All of Us also criticized the restraining order.
“It is not surprising that the PBA is attempting to block the release of Pommer’s record,” said All of Us co-founder Shawn Young, who called the filing an “obvious attempt to subvert” the repeal of 50-a.
“Our community doesn’t need more of its law enforcement reps staking out positions on the blue wall of silence, our community needs the truth,” Young said. “If there is something in his record that speaks to a pattern of behavior that is harmful, then the public should have access to that.”
Within days of the altercation, the city implemented numerous reforms, including banning knee-to-neck holds and pledging to boost de-escalation training.
The city also said it will enter discussions with the Civilian Police Review Board to explore further changes.
A city-led panel guiding the state-mandated police reform process is now working with various segments of the community, including the PBA and All of Us, on scheduling a series of community meetings slated to begin this fall.