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Schenectady police officer on unpaid leave related to in-custody death

Schenectady police officer on unpaid leave related to in-custody death

Case stems from the 2017 death of Andrew Kearse
Schenectady police officer on unpaid leave related to in-custody death
Schenectady Police Officer Mark Weekes, right, speaks to media after a case in 2016
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY -- A Schenectady police officer involved in the case of a man who died in police custody last year has been removed from active duty.

Sgt. Matt Dearing, a spokesman for the Police Department, confirmed that Officer Mark Weekes was placed on leave without pay.

City officials said Weekes was placed on leave in relation to the May 2017 death of Andrew Kearse. The officials spoke on the condition that they not be identified on the grounds that they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

On Wednesday, the state Attorney General’s Office, which for the past year has been investigating the death of Andrew Kearse, said it was planning to put the case before a grand jury.

There were no city sources who would speak on the record regarding the case.

City Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, who oversees discipline within the department, did not return multiple requests for comment.

“Given grand jury secrecy and professional ethics rules, we cannot comment further,” said state Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg in an emailed response to questions about the case.

Sanford Rubenstein, the attorney for Andrew Kearse’s widow, Angelique Negroni-Kearse, on Wednesday said it was their understanding that Weekes was one of the officers being investigated in relation to Kearse’s death.

"Under the circumstances, we think it would be appropraite for him not to be on active duty," Rubenstein said.

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Kearse was arrested after police said he tried to flee a traffic stop. On the way to the station, Kearse complained of breathing problems and said he was feeling dizzy, according to court documents.

He was unresponsive when police arrived at the police station, according to the court documents; city police officials previously said paramedics were immediately called.

Negroni-Kearse filed a lawsuit that alleges five police officers involved in Kearse’s arrest did not seek medical attention for him. The suit did not name any of the officers.

Rubenstein said action on the lawsuit will be put on hold pending the results of the grand jury investigation as well as any criminal prosecution. He said they will be "fully cooperative" with the state Attorney General's Office.

"This is an important step to get justice," Rubenstein said of the forthcoming grand jury investigation. "This is an important first step to get justice for [Andrew Kearse's] wrongful death.

Negroni-Kearse previously provided a nine-minute audio clip to The Daily Gazette in which Kearse could be heard pleading with officers for medical attention.

“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir,” he says in the clip. “I can’t breathe.”

Officers could be heard responding in the audio clip. “Are you hot?” an officer says to Kearse. “Then you probably shouldn’t have run.”

Weekes, an Air Force veteran of Afghanistan, joined the department in 2009 and was awarded a citation for bravery in 2016.

He was involved in a high profile case in November 2015 in which he suffered serious injuries. On an early Saturday morning -- around 2:22 a.m. -- Weekes was patrolling the area of Broadway and State Street when he came across James Hilton, who at the time was an amateur MMA fighter, dancing in the road with a traffic cone.

Police previously said Hilton appeared to be intoxicated.

Weekes later found Hilton walking on State Street with the cone still in his possession. But when he went to place Hilton in custody, Hilton threw Weekes over his shoulder and began punching him.

An audio from Weeke's in-car video camera recorded the sounds of 26 to 28 punches being thrown at Weekes.

Hilton was later convicted of assault on a police officer, second-degree assault and second-degree strangulation, which landed him a 13-year prison sentence.

Weekes' skull was fractured as a result. He later told the media following Hilton's sentencing  that he had suffered migraines and memory loss since the attack. He also said he had trouble using his right ring finger and dealt with bouts of dizziness.

 Weekes was returned to duty a few months after the incident.

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