SCHENECTADY — Neighbors of the city man who was at the center of last week's controversial chase and violent arrest by Schenectady police are painting a more nuanced portrait of Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud.
“Problems have been non-stop,” said Carol Eto, who lives next door.
Residents are beginning to speak out about the altercation last week that sparked immediate outrage, protests, an internal police probe and a series of police reforms.
The encounter, they say, shouldn't be viewed as police brutality, as alleged by activists, but rather as an officer simply trying to do his job.
Neighbors allege Gaindarpersaud, who bolted from a patrolman last week while being questioned about slashing his neighbor’s tires, has been a constant headache since he and his family moved to the Central State Street neighborhood two years ago.
Eto contends problems started when the former owners of 334 North Brandywine Ave. opted to install a driveway to sweeten the deal for Gaindarpersaud, who purchased the home in September 2017, according to county tax records.
To make room, the former owners ripped out a 100-year-old tree, and Eto claimed the proposed driveway encroached on minimum-setback requirements.
Eto fought the issue at City Hall, which included conducting a property line survey and temporarily removing a fence in the process.
The driveway was ultimately installed. Since then, Eto says, Gaindarpersaud, 31, has held a grudge -- ping-ponging between harassing her and his neighbor on his other side, Parbattie Datt.
“From there, everything went crazy,” said Eto, who has called police numerous times over behavior she described as generally unpleasant, including leaving trash outdoors, damaging trees and harassing her son, whose complaint about slashed tires ultimately prompted the encounter between Gaindarpersaud and Officer Brian Pommer.
The constant issues have been a strain on Eto, whose primary job is taking care of her 89-year-old mother, who lives downstate.
“I can’t relax because every time I come home, there’s something going on,” Eto said.
Datt on Tuesday scrolled through two years of surveillance footage capturing various encounters, including a photo of Gaindarpersaud allegedly removing property boundaries.
One time, they chased each other around the yard after she cut a camping trip short to confront him.
“Show me the footage,” Gaindarpersaud demanded, which echoed his response to Schenectady Police Patrolman Pommer upon being questioned last week, who claimed footage captured him slashing the tires on Eto’s 2007 Toyota Camry.
Just hours before last week's controversial altercation, Datt said, Gaindarpersaud refused to acknowledge another issue: A pool of maggots that remained on her driveway after he carried his Fourth of July trash to the curb and attempted to hose down the residue.
Both father and son ignored her calls from over the fence.
“I’ve had trash problems with this guy since we moved here,” Datt said.
Officials have acknowledged Pommer didn’t view the surveillance footage that captured the alleged tire slashing, and Gaindarpersaud hasn’t been charged in connection with the crime.
Footage captured from Datt’s surveillance cameras reveals a shadow moving from Gaindarpersaud’s house toward where the car was parked.
Datt declined to speculate, citing a lack of conclusive evidence, but Eto is certain that it was Gaindarpersaud.
“Circumstantial evidence right there tells me he did it,” she said, citing another neighbor who heard noise of which she suspected was of the tires being damaged.
Both Eto and Datt voiced concerns to police and city officials at a community meeting on Sunday that drew between 50 and 60 people.
They said they wanted to tell their version of events to paint a more accurate picture than what they believe to be a one-sided narrative unfolding in the media.
The mood in the room turned immediately, Datt recalled.
“They don’t know he was like that,” she said, who admitted being chagrined that Gaindarpersaud was being portrayed as a saint.
Both Datt and Eto recounted their experiences in interviews with the Daily Gazette.
Gaindarpersaud, who has been charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, directed comment to his lawyer on Tuesday, who declined to comment on the allegations.
“We are still investigating and exploring the situation involving Yugeshwar, which goes more into just the allegations of criminal charges and involvement with the police officer,” said Derek S. Andrews. “We just need more time.”
The tire-slashing remains under investigation, according to city police.
Footage initially shot by Gaindarpersaud’s father of the incident last Monday caused a firestorm and reignited a fresh round of protests following a period of general calm following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
Body-camera video revealed Pommer attempting to detain Gaindarpersaud after he demanded to see the footage and fled, and grew increasingly physical as the suspect resisted on the ground.
Eto, Datt and Gaindarpersaud are all Guyanese.
While the altercation between Gaindarpersaud and Pommer has been framed by civil rights groups and activists as the latest example of a white cop using excessive force on a suspect of color — Pommer also punched him six times in the torso as he lay on the concrete — Eto contends the altercation was not racially-motivated.
“The cops did nothing wrong,” Eto said. “If you are not guilty, why did you run?”
Datt feels similarly.
“I don’t know where he came from and what his intentions are towards his neighbors,” Datt said.
Pommer, the officer involved, is on desk duty and an internal investigation is ongoing.
Civil rights groups and community activists have welcomed reforms ushered in in the aftermath, including a ban on so-called head holds.
More changes are planned pending community discussions, while community activists All of Us are taking a more hardline stance to expedite the process, occupying the area around City Hall for over 10 hours on Monday, prompting early closure and challenging city police to forcefully disperse them (They didn’t).
Eto said the dispute is exacerbated by geographic divisions from their native turf in Guyana.
She is from Georgetown, the capital city and a fairly cosmopolitan locale, while, she says, Gaindarpersaud hails from a rural region hugging the eastern border, and one in which men are encouraged to act macho.
“I don’t take nothing from nobody and I’m not going to take anything from him,” Eto said.
City Council President John Mootooveren, who is also Guyanese, also believes race didn't play a role in the altercation.
“What happened is unfortunate and should not have happened,” Mootooveren said. “It’s not a racial incident and should not be considered that — this is something the neighbors have been going through with these individuals for at least two years.
"It's not about blaming him, it's about getting accurate information out there."
Ravi Ishmael, president of the Schenectady Hindu Temple/Guyanese Community Center, said all law enforcement shouldn't be tarred with the same brush.
“We the citizens of the country are really taking advantage of the police,” Singh said. “If one cop has made a dirty mistake, that should not mess the rest of the cops up.”
Other city lawmakers issued statements calling for reconciliation on Tuesday, including city Councilmembers John Polimeni and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas.
“Sometimes there is a breakdown and things need to be addressed and changes made,” said Zalewski-Wildzunas, who also called the altercation “unfortunate.”
The city lawmaker acknowledged neighbors have been trying for years to solve issues.
"The officer was doing his job," Zalewski-Wildzunas said. "None of us were in the officers’ shoes and we do not know what other threats he perceived. There is an ongoing investigation and I am sure that we will have more details soon."
The Schenectady NAACP warned last week about "demonizing" suspects, noting a suspect's background, or the fact they fled police or perhaps committed other minor crimes, doesn't necessitate excessive tactics that may prove to be fatal.
"All of these things will come up," said President Dr. Odo Butler last week. "It doesn't excuse any of the behavior that's not supposed to happen, but it doesn't allow someone to put their knee on your neck or your head. What we're saying is there needs to be policy set up so peoples' lives aren't lost."
Eto stood in her backyard on Tuesday surveying the workers putting up new fencing, a project that set her back $4,000, money that otherwise would have been put to other uses.
She first eyed Schenectady in 2006 and didn’t relocate until the following year after conducting extensive research for a house.
“When I drove up the driveway for the first time, my heart felt like I was home,” Eto said. “Now he’s making me miserable.”