A city police officer has been placed on administrative leave as his department investigates allegations of excessive force during a traffic stop Saturday, police said.
Officer Nathan Baker was placed on leave after audio of the incident — recorded from the driver’s forward-facing, in-car camera — was posted on YouTube. The camera did not capture visuals of the incident.
In the video, the driver alleges that Baker improperly stopped him, pepper-sprayed him and twisted his arm.
Adam Rupeka, 35, of Troy, claims in the video that he was pulled over solely for giving the passing officer the middle finger.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Gregory J. Veitch said that he is aware of the video and is taking action to investigate.
“I take very seriously any allegation of improper use of force made against any officer of the Saratoga Springs Police Department and I have been in contact with Mr. Rupeka regarding this incident,” Veitch’s statement reads. “An internal investigation of the entire incident has already commenced.”
The incident happened just after 3:30 Saturday afternoon during a traffic stop on High Rock Avenue near the Hampton Inn, police said.
It resulted in Rupeka being charged with a traffic infraction of driving with an obstructed view, as well as a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest, police said.
Veitch confirmed in a statement that Baker used force on Rupeka, “including the deployment of oleoresin capsicum,” which is more commonly referred to as pepper spray. Rupeka was treated by medical personnel at the station and at the Saratoga Hospital Emergency Room, Veitch’s statement reads.
Veitch indicated that the officer was not equipped with a body camera, that city-owned street cameras do not clearly show the area of the incident and that police have found no private surveillance camera from the area showing the incident.
Rupeka’s video was posted to YouTube and to the Facebook page called “Capital District Cop Block.” The YouTube video had more than 3,200 views by Monday afternoon.
In a post published on CopBlock.org, Rupeka indicates that he was in Saratoga Springs to test the department’s compliance with rulings allowing the middle finger as free speech.
He says that he also had a camcorder placed on his dash board, but that camera was taken by police and not returned. His cellphone and dash cam were returned with the dash cam video intact.
He also alleges further excessive force at the police station after he was having trouble breathing.
Rupeka’s name is on at least two other posts on the main CopBlock.org featuring videos, one of a private security guard outside the federal courthouse in Albany posted earlier this month and one outside the Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie.
Both of those videos involve Rupeka filming at the sites and either the security officer or the corrections officers challenging his right to do so. The Albany video had 33,000 views as of Monday, the correctional facility video had 126,000 views.
The Saratoga Springs footage starts as Rupeka travels on Maple Avenue, near Ellsworth Jones Place. As Rupeka continues on Maple, a police car can be seen approaching from the opposite direction. Text on the video indicates that it was at that point that Rupeka gave the officer the finger.
Rupeka turns left on Lake Avenue and left onto High Rock and is pulled over, according to the video text.
The voice identified as the officer asks Rupeka for his license and registration. Rupeka responds by asking “what are you pulling me over for?”
“I’ll be glad to tell you as soon as you give me your information,” the officer responds.
Rupeka says he’ll give the officer his information once the officer tells him what crime he’s committed.
After one more request for the license and registration and one more question from Rupeka about what crime he committed, the officer asks Rupeka to step out of the vehicle.
Rupeka asks for a third time what crime he has committed and the officer again asks Rupeka to step out of the vehicle.
“This is being recorded,” Rupeka says.
“I saw your camera, step out of the vehicle,” the officer responds.
Rupeka can be heard giving a quick, seemingly disbelieving laugh.
“Step out of the vehicle, you’re under arrest for disorderly conduct,” the officer’s voice responds.
“Step out,” the officer said.
“That’s not a charge for …” Rupeka says as he’s interrupted by a spraying noise.
The text on the video identifies the sound as that of the officer pepper-spraying him twice. It’s about 29 seconds after the first verbal interaction.
“Step out of the vehicle, you’re under arrest for disorderly conduct,” the officer says again.
Rupeka can be heard giving a noise. The text indicates the officer is twisting Rupeka’s arm. The door can be heard opening.
“Are you going to comply?” the officer voice asks.
Rupeka can be heard giving a noise as if he’s in pain.
“Are you going to comply?” the officer voice says again.
Rupeka responds that he can’t. The officer directs him to unbuckle twice in quick succession.
“Unbuckle and step out of the vehicle,” the officer says.
“I’m going to sue the [expletive] out of you guys,” Rupeka responds.
The officer’s voice repeats the command as Rupeka repeats “I am.”
The officer instructs Rupeka to put his hands behind his back as Rupeka declares that giving someone the finger is freedom of speech and that the Supreme Court has ruled that.
The end of the video shows the citations Rupeka says he received, including what appears to be an additional misdemeanor count of obstructing governmental administration. The text notes that there is no citation for disorderly conduct.
Melanie Trimble, director of the local chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, confirmed that a stop based on a driver giving the middle finger would not be a valid reason for a stop.
The video, she said, would be helpful. She had yet to see the video.
She said Rupeka had contacted her office, but she had yet to speak with him.