On Tuesday (Feb. 4), Pastor Willie Bacote led a march of 100-plus Troy residents from Bethel Baptist Church down Fifth Avenue to a community hearing at Christ Church United Methodist. Bacote’s words echoed through a bullhorn: “We are asking all of you, no matter what color you are, no matter what creed or nationality, help us send a very calm message throughout the city of Troy that we have had enough of all of this nonsense that they call police brutality.”
Bacote’s words came just 11 days after a 911 call was made from Kokopellis nightclub at 124 Fourth Street. According to phone records, the call was made at 2:37 AM, and eight Troy police officers arrived at the scene 11 minutes later. Within that timeframe, Barry Glick, co-owner of Kokopellis, claimed that the 12 security guards on staff (one for every 25 patrons) had deescalated the situation, which began when Glick ordered the establishment to close early—apparently because he smelled marijuana smoke. However, the officers who arrived on the scene claimed otherwise. According to Troy Police, fights were taking place outside the bar while glass bottles were launched into the air, hitting two officers in the head.
In a statement to the Times Union, Glick questioned how bottles could be thrown at police, given that “there were no bottles to be thrown.” Glick said, “When we have special events like we did that night, we use plastic cups.”
A 45-second cell-phone video, taken by one patron inside Kokopellis, which has now gone viral on YouTube, shows patron Roshawon Donley, 25, being told to stay calm after a Troy police officer with a buzzed salt-and-pepper haircut grips Donley’s shoulder. Within seconds, Donley is shuffled to the ground as the video picks up audio of a whipping sound coming from the officer’s baton and Donley’s flesh.
After careful review of the video, Captain John Cooney of the Troy Police Department claimed such actions taken by Troy police officers were a “pain compliance technique to restore order.”
Bystanders dispute that such force was necessary and that the video suggests that the crowd was in the process of dispersing when Donley was assaulted. “Everyone was trying to just leave, but the coat system was a mess. It wasn’t organized proper so everyone was gathered around waiting for their coats,” said a woman in her 20s who witnessed the incident and preferred to remain anonymous. Another claimed, “I couldn’t leave if I wanted. I needed my keys. Where was I going to go? Police were pushing us out but we needed our coats, money, keys all that stuff.”
Representing the Troy Police Department, Chief John Tedesco said in response to Capt. Cooney’s statement, “Any comments that were made were based on the evidence to date. The investigation is continuing and, as things evolve, that may change.” Although Tedesco was not one of the speakers on the Public Safety Committee’s meeting agenda, he is scheduled to speak in more detail on Feb. 12 before he leaves for vacation in Florida.
Based on the cell phone video and surveillance footage, Troy resident Alfonzo Hicks said, “There are certain ways you got to go about things and if you don’t go about them the right way then you get all these people in here. I see about 500 people in here right now. It’s got to stop. They’re [Troy police] able to get away with stuff like that [excessive force], and nobody says nothing but now they got 200 witnesses that seen this. People can’t say they [the 240 Kokopellis patrons] weren’t cooperating.”
For some Troy community members, such as Francesca Tutunjian, wife of former Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian and owner of Francesca’s Café, the actions of the police department have no reason to be questioned, despite the ongoing investigation. “I know my Troy Police Department. I know my officers. They’ve always been great to me, and they’ve been kind,” said Tutunjian. “My experience with them is always positive, 100 percent. They went in there under extreme circumstances and they did what they had to do. I don’t think they broke the law. I don’t think they did anything wrong. They were protecting each other, protecting other people that were in harm’s way.”
According to Troy resident Amy, who asked that Metroland not use her last name, “What happened at Kokopellis on the 25th isn’t the first time there’s been police brutality, and it’s just gotta stop. It was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is an amazing community that I live in and I absolutely love it, but the abuse of power is actually ridiculous.
As the marchers congregated at Christ Church United Methodist for a community hearing, the initial 100 marchers grew in number as more and more Troy residents flooded in.
So far, only one complaint has been filed from the night in question at Kokopellis, where alleged excessive force by Troy police against patrons has brought about an internal investigation.
However, Ben Brucato of the Community Alliance Against Police Violence would like to see this internal investigation become an “open external investigation into the incident.” Brucato said, “I would also like to see charges of those arrested after police arrived dropped. I would like to see officers with nightsticks be criminally charged for assault with a deadly weapon and suspended without pay, and I would like to see a new policy of reporting and auditing use of force on incidents.”
In addition to these requests, Pastor Bacote has sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office alleging that Troy Police have used excessive force as a standard police practice for decades, especially against those of color. Many who took part in the march believe that racial tension fueled the Kokopellis incident as video footage shows white police officers and a predominately black bar crowd.
As the hearing began, Bacote said, “We need to walk away from the table with a feeling of care and concern instead of with a bunch of rhetoric. We have to go to the table and talk about race; we can’t push it under the rug again.”
Bacote is asking for an audit of police process, patterns of discriminatory practices and other forms of brutality dating back to 2010, when Shakim Miller and James Foley were beaten by Troy Officer Chris Pollay. Foley sustained a number of serious injuries including broken bones. A year later, John Larkins was tossed to the ground and tasered. Subdued and in the back of a police car, Larkins was pepper sprayed. After an internal investigation was completed, the force used against Larkins was deemed justifiable. Again in 2012, an internal investigation found Troy police used appropriate force after entering Brain Houle’s home, following an argument on Facebook between Houle and a Troy officer. In the following year, Lawrence Nesmith was beaten while in a holding cell at the Troy Police Department. After much community outrage over the incident, the release of surveillance footage and an investigation into the innocent were requested, neither of which has occurred.