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Graduation ceremony marred by violent arrest (video)

Graduation ceremony marred by violent arrest (video)

Witnesses: Parents couldn't get in to see ceremony

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford defended his officers’ use of force Friday against a man outside of the Schenectady High School graduation

A video posted to Facebook  shows the man, identified by police as 43-year-old Clifton R. Rock, being punched multiple times by a Schenectady police officer as a second officer restrains the man inside the arcade at Proctors.

Clifford said that, prior to what is captured in the video, the man was cursing. Officers asked the man to stop cursing, but he continued. They told him he would be arrested if he didn’t stop cursing, but he continued, Clifford said. In a press release, police said the man’s behavior created a “hazardous environment.”

When officers moved to handcuff him, the man took a swing at an officer, Clifford said. He then resisted arrest, so the officers began “placing strikes” in an attempt to subdue him, Clifford said.

“The video you are seeing is the end of the incident, not the beginning,” Clifford said.

By 4:30 p.m. Friday, the video had been viewed 22,000 times on Facebook.

After throwing at least three punches to Rock’s face, as seen in the video, the officer moves to place cuffs around his wrists as a crowd of bystanders gathers, with some yelling at the officers.

The officers can be heard saying, “Stop resisting,” multiple times. The officers then take Rock into custody, leaving through the back entrance of Proctors before the video stops. Rock was charged with disorderly conduct and misdemeanor resisting arrest, as well as misdemeanor third-degree menacing.

The chief said that, “knowing all the information that I know,” the officers’ behavior was appropriate.

“It’s frustrating for the 15 seconds this video is grabbing the attention of the public it has the potential to erase hours and hours of good work our police do every day,” Clifford said.

Eyewitnesses -- who didn't want their names disclosed -- said the incident happened at around 9:15 a.m., as families were trying to get into the theater for the graduation but were turned away by ushers.

District spokeswoman Karen Corona said each graduate is granted four tickets for the event. The doors to the event close promptly at 9 a.m., and parents were notified they would not be allowed in after 9 a.m., Corona said. A telecast was available for viewing the ceremony in the GE Theater.

“There is no discretion,” she said. “If you have a ticket, they let you in; if you don’t have a ticket, they don’t let you in. If you show up after 9 a.m., they don’t let you in."

As the graduation carried on inside Proctors theater, family and friends of graduates who were not allowed in because they were late grew frustrated with police, and with Proctors and school district staff who told them they could not get inside the theater.

In a separate incident, observed by a Daily Gazette reporter, a frustrated mother and son rushed into the theater, even though they were told they weren’t allowed in. An officer shoved the teenage boy as he passed. The mother later came back, yelling at the officer and accusing him of assaulting her son. The officer told the woman, “you can’t walk through a police officer.”

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