Schenectady

Schenectady police union seeks to strip out unfounded allegations in Pommer file

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Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — A decision on whether the city can release a police officer’s personnel records won’t be made for at least another three weeks.

The city filed a formal response to the Schenectady PBA’s lawsuit to block the release of Brian Pommer’s personnel records in State Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Now the two sides will meet again in a teleconference on Oct. 13.

In the meantime, the records will remain sealed.

“Obviously there’s a disagreement between the PBA and the city in terms of what should be released and what shouldn’t be released,” said city Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin after the brief hearing.

The city’s position is that the records are subject to requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, including unsubstantiated claims made against Pommer, a seven-year veteran of the department.

The PBA, however, wants the city to strip out unsubstantiated allegations against not only Pommer but all officers, contending their release would constitute an “invasion of privacy and would harm the reputations of law enforcement officers.”

The union filed a lawsuit on Sept. 3 to block the records, and State Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers granted a temporary restraining order allowing the file to be sealed.

“The larger issue remains whether unfounded or undetermined allegations which did not result in a disciplinary finding — including counseling — are now nevertheless subject to release in the wake of the repeal of section 50-a,” Powers said on Wednesday.

Powers said he granted a “slight redaction” at the request of the PBA. He did not elaborate further in his prepared remarks.

Following a nationwide reckoning on police brutality caused by the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement, the state Legislature repealed 50-a in June, a statute used by police departments to block the release of disciplinary and personnel records.

The Daily Gazette previously filed a FOIL request for Pommer’s disciplinary records, as did local website Albany Proper and the Times Union.

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 his neighbor’s residence on North Brandywine Avenue.

A portion of the altercation was filmed by Gaindarpersaud’s father and posted on social media, garnering outrage by activists, who protested in front of the county courthouse on Wednesday, resulting in some tense moments with a smaller group of counterprotesters.

In materials advertising their counterdemonstration, Liberty Bell Alliance 76 claimed the release of personnel files would include the home addresses of law enforcement officers.

However, that is an inaccurate statement: the legislation specifically prohibits the release of that information.

“The idea that we’re after personal information like addresses and phone numbers is ludicrous,” said All of Us co-founder Shawn Young.

Activists contend disclosure of all records, including unsubstantiated claims and allegations, is in the best interest of the communities being policed.

“Whether they are founded or unfounded, it would show a pattern,” said All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles. “Currently, officers are investigated by other officers. We have no faith in the investigative power or commitment for officers to find the truth, or find fault with their colleagues.”

The PBA, represented by Jack Calareso, has one week to submit a response to the city’s filing on Wednesday.

It’s possible the parties could file additional submissions at the Oct. 13 teleconference.

Once all documents are filed, Powers indicated, he will make a swift decision.

“It is the court’s intention to make its determination immediately following those submissions,” Powers said.

Unions representing police departments in New York City and Buffalo have also filed similar lawsuits seeking release of unsubstantiated allegations, which means Powers’ decision could potentially set a precedent.

While city police and the county District Attorney’s Office launched an internal investigation into the July 6 altercation between Pommer and Gaindarpersaud, authorities have not issued a final report yet.

Gaindarpersaud has been charged with criminal mischief and resisting arrest and has pleaded not guilty. City Police Chief Eric Clifford said the report won’t be released until those charges are adjudicated.

Gaindarpersaud’s next court appearance is Sept. 29.

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