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Video of Schenectady officer kneeling on man’s neck sparks outrage, investigation

Video of Schenectady officer kneeling on man’s neck sparks outrage, investigation

Video of Schenectady officer kneeling on man’s neck sparks outrage, investigation
A screen capture from the video
Photographer: Facebook

SCHENECTADY — City police have launched a probe into an incident that resulted in an officer kneeling on a man’s neck while being taken into custody on Monday morning.

Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud said he was confronted by city police investigating a report that his neighbor’s tires had been slashed. 

Tuesday Evening Update: New footage reveals Schenectady officer punching suspect, repeatedly

Gaindarpersaud, 31, said he told the officer to provide evidence, turned around and walked away. 

That’s when he said the unidentified officer allegedly threw him to the ground before kneeling on his neck. 

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“His whole body weight was smashing my head into the concrete,” Gaindarpersaud said. “I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move.”

After being placed into the patrol car, Gaindarpersaud said he blacked out.

“When I woke up, I was in Ellis Hospital,” said Gaindarpersaud, who displayed abrasions on his face, leg and arm to The Daily Gazette ahead of a protest held outside of police headquarters on Monday. 

The video, courtesy Jaindra Gaindarpersaud:

A 22-second video clip shot by his father, Jaindra Gaindarpersaud, and posted to social media reveals the officer kneeling on his neck while Jaindra pleaded with him to stop.

"You got the foot on his head,” Jaindra said. “You've got the foot on his head."

The officer responded, “Go back inside now” and told Jaindra to "back up.”

“He stopped breathing and he was not moving,” Jaindra Gaindarpersaud said. “And when he pinned him to the ground, he was not moving anymore, so I said, ‘He’s going to die just like George Floyd.’”

Jaindra Gaindarpersaud said the brief clip is part of a longer segment he estimated was two or three minutes of an encounter that lasted at least 10 minutes.

Tuesday Evening Update: New footage reveals Schenectady officer punching suspect, repeatedly

City police confirmed officers responded to an ongoing neighbor dispute. 

According to city police, Gaindarpersaud “pulled away from the officer and fled on foot into the backyard of his residence.” 

“A brief foot chase and struggle ensued during which the officer lost his radio and asked a nearby witness to call police,” police said in a statement. “Additional responding officers arrived on scene and were able to assist the original officer and ultimately place the male into handcuffs.”

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The incident is under investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.

The department is committed to “fair, impartial, and transparent investigations,” said city police, who declined further comment. 

“As soon as the investigation has concluded or more information can be released in regards to the incident, it will be made available.”

Yugeshwar Guindarpersaud recounts what happened: Video by Pete DeMola/Gazette

'GRAVE CONCERN'

Schenectady NAACP said the incident is one of "grave concern" and is calling for a thorough investigation as well as a review of body camera footage.

“The Schenectady NAACP stands against the use of excessive force and tactics that cause extreme physical harm or death by the Schenectady Police Department and all law enforcement,” said Schenectady NAACP President Dr. Odo Butler. “We demand that all citizens be treated equally regardless of their race or ethnicity. We are in a critical time, and any inexcusable behavior by law enforcement must be addressed immediately.”

The video rocketed through social media on Monday, drawing instant comparison by activists to the death of Floyd, who was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer for nearly nine minutes before dying on May 25, an action that prompted international protests and a national reckoning on race and police accountability. 

The Gaindarpersauds spoke outside of a protest at the city police station on Monday, marking the second time in three days activists have congregated downtown to advocate for police accountability and to denounce systemic racism. 

Brandon “Bambino” Brown usually monitors demonstrations as part of the Outsiders, the protesters' security force quietly watching for agitators and disruptive forces, and seldom speaks publicly.

But on Monday, Brown felt compelled to speak out, noting he lives just blocks from the Gaindarpersauds and was roused out of bed by police sirens. 

“All of us as a community need to stand up and do something about this,” Brown said. 

Schenectady has seen frequent protests since Floyd’s death last month, all of them led by All of Us, a local grassroots organization.

Barely a week ago, the owner of an embattled ice cream stand, David Elmendorf, was arrested after allegedly pointing a pellet gun at activists demonstrating against racist text messages and comments they say he made toward Black people. 

All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles pointed at the ongoing issues in the community. “We shouldn’t have to tell these stories again,” Miles said. “We shouldn’t have to listen to another story again from our community members about how police use brutality against the members of this community.” 

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Following a peaceful protest that turned violent in Albany on May 30, a demonstration in Schenectady the following day was peaceful after city Police Chief Eric Clifford took a knee and marched with protesters, an act that each side acknowledged averted tensions and paved the way for a dialogue. 

Organizer Legacy Casanova doesn’t think Monday’s incident is a setback, but shows more needs to be done to bring about meaningful change. 

Tuesday Evening Update: New footage reveals Schenectady officer punching suspect, repeatedly

“It’s a blatant slap in the face,” Casanova said. “They know they’re supposed to be out there protecting and to keep doing these antics is outrageous.”

REFORMS DEMANDED

Advocates for police reform won statewide victories last week with a series of measures, including the rollback of a state law used by localities to block release of police disciplinary records. There was also an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordering police departments in the state to reform operations with community input.

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But for the past several weeks, local dialogue has been at a stalemate: 

All of Us has presented city police with 13 demands, including diverting seized drug assets back into the community, automatic firing of police officers and corrections officers for racist texts, emails and social media posts, as well as the abolishment of ticket-writing incentive programs that they contend disproportionately ensnare minorities in the criminal justice system. 

But Clifford on Friday said the department will not implement any changes until community conversations are held with a new leadership working group, which has yet to be identified. 

The state and city banned chokeholds last month. The city's executive order also included "knee-to-neck" holds, a technique the officer appeared to use on Monday.

All of Us additionally wants city police to ban “strangleholds” and hogties.

Schenectady NAACP called for the following reforms:

  • “A ban on the use of knee holds as an acceptable practice for police officers.
  • “The Use of Force Continuum ensuring that there are at least six levels of steps, with clear rules on escalation.
  • “Recertification credentials may be denied for police officers if determined that their use of deadly force was unwarranted by federal guidelines.
  • “A Citizen’s Review Board with independent investigative and subpoena powers to build public confidence."

Following Floyd’s death on May 25, Clifford condemned the technique used by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“I haven’t seen one person watch that video and reach a different conclusion than I’ve reached," Clifford said at the time.

City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she wanted to review the full clip before making a judgment on how or if the officer should be disciplined.

But she said placing a knee on a suspect’s neck should be banned.

Tuesday Evening Update: New footage reveals Schenectady officer punching suspect, repeatedly

“That’s just not an acceptable practice to restrain someone,” Porterfield said. 

Jaindra Gaindarpersaud said, “These officers have to stop, or they have to get fired. We don’t need officers like them. We need officers to protect us — not to kill us, and they kill many people already and they’re still trying. This has to stop.”

Protesters on Monday marched to the back entrance of police headquarters and chanted, “Get your knees off our necks.” 

Several demanded an audience with police brass.

During the protest a half-dozen officers stood and passively watched and did not engage the crowd, which numbered roughly 100. 

Protesters will again gather at City Hall Monday, July 13.

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