A man was savagely beaten by a band of teenagers for 20 minutes early Monday morning while police patrolled elsewhere, leaving the Hamilton Hill zone unfilled.
Police are supposed to assign a minimum of two officers to focus on the Hill each night, but for some reason the zone was empty on the midnight shift Monday, Assistant Chief Jack Falvo said.
That left a group of teenagers with plenty of time to attack at least one and possibly two passersby, one of whom ended up at Albany Medical Center Hospital with serious injuries at 2 a.m. Now the Police Department, the mayor’s office and the Schenectady City Council want to find out what went wrong.
“There should be an officer dedicated to that zone [Hamilton Hill],” Falvo said, adding that even if the regular officer were out sick, someone else should have been assigned to cover the gap.
Anthony Ackerman Sr. jump started the investigation Monday when he went directly to the Schenectady City Council after being released from the hospital with stitches and a concussion. His voice still slightly slurred from heavy bruising on his jaw, he claimed the police mistakes began hours before they decided not to fill the Hamilton Hill zone at midnight.
“What is disturbing to me is this happened to a person three hours before me and yet the police failed to keep a patrol car in the area,” Ackerman told the council. “No patrol officer stayed in that area.”
Police got a call for a similar attack nearby, at Jerry Burrell Park, around 10:30 p.m. When they arrived, both victim and attackers were gone.
The victim had called police but did not answer repeated phone calls and officers eventually moved on to other calls, police spokesman Kevin Green said.
“They did look in the area for quite some time,” Green said, but explained that without a victim to describe the attackers, police couldn’t find reason to stop anyone.
“Without a victim, you certainly can’t go up to groups and say, ‘Did you beat someone up?’ ” Green said.
The officers finished their shift and headed home. As the next shift began, Green said, the only officer who was assigned to patrol Hamilton Hill was the “overlap” officer, who patrols the downtown as well as the Hill.
Falvo said Hamilton Hill always gets its own officer as well as the overlap. He didn’t know why the dedicated officer wasn’t there.
Ackerman said a detective told him the department was under strength and had too few officers to be in every zone at once.
But he didn’t know that Monday morning as he headed home after a long shift at the Rotterdam Wal-Mart.
He started home at 1 a.m. like he always does, walking along Crane Street and Chrisler Avenue to the Cotton Factory Hollow Bridge, where he crossed Hamilton Hill on his way to his apartment on Nott Terrace.
As he approached the intersection of Paige and Strong streets around 1:30 a.m., he saw about 30 teenagers milling in the road.
“I was figuring kids were getting out of a party,” he said.
But as he walked by, one of them turned and punched him, he said. The last thing he remembers is a flurry of fists in his face.
“I was beaten for 20 minutes,” he said. “Broken nose. Sixteen stitches. Loose teeth. I may have a broken jaw. I might have permanent eye damage. All because these teenagers decided to take it out on me … They did it for fun.”
At the time, Green said, the overlap officer was handling a traffic stop at Interstate 890 and Erie Boulevard — the farthest edge of the downtown, a mile away from Ackerman.
Ackerman blacked out early in the fight and had no way to call for help. But the noise eventually caught the attention of a neighbor, who dialed 911 at 1:49 a.m. By then, Ackerman believes the beating had gone on for about 20 minutes.
Police raced to the scene while the neighbor told a dispatcher that 30 youths were attacking an unarmed man. She said Ackerman was staggering around, semi-conscious, covered in blood.
When police arrived, three minutes later, the youths ran. Police found Ackerman on Summit Avenue, unconscious and bleeding heavily.
Eight officers converged and worked the neighborhood, searching for groups with blood on their hands or clothes. But Ackerman was in no shape to identify anyone and the neighbor who called said she couldn’t or wouldn’t point out any of the perpetrators, Green said. So police didn’t take anyone into custody.
“We had groups walking around,” Green said. “But you start talking to these kids, I can tell you right now, within half an hour their parents would be at the station. They wouldn’t be concerned that their kids were walking around at quarter past 2 in the morning. They’d be concerned that police talked to them.”
Plus, he said, without an identification or something suspicious, like blood, police couldn’t arrest anybody.
“They’d have the right to walk away and say, ‘Go scratch,’ ” Green said.
Ackerman wasn’t impressed.
“The police did not even come to the hospital to talk to me,” he said. “Their attitude is not to serve and protect, it’s to keep the peace. Someone needs to hold this city accountable and I’m going to do that.”
He said he came in person to talk to the City Council because he wanted them to realize how important it is to make immediate changes in the Police Department.
“I wanted them to see what a victim looks like,” he said.
Councilman Gary McCarthy reacted sympathetically.
“It’s tragic. It’s wrong,” said McCarthy, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. “Some of that is hard to predict, where [crime] is going to happen. There’ll be follow-up tomorrow to see where the allocation of resources was.”