While Deputy Chief Mike Wood briefed the press Thursday afternoon on the latest in the city’s recent spate of killings, on the other side of Main Street, Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard answered tough questions from City Council members on an arrest video that has the whole community talking.
A video posted on YouTube last month shows a Rochester police officer struggling to subdue city resident Brenda Hardaway, 21. Hardaway tells the officer several times that she is pregnant. At one point, the officer punches Hardaway in the back of the head and forces her to the ground.
The video provoked swift outrage and has some, including the local NAACP, calling for the police chief’s resignation.
An internal review of the incident is under way. But Sheppard has said that Hardaway was physically aggressive with officers, and that she threatened them with pepper spray. (Hardaway has been indicted on six counts, including two felonies, by a grand jury.) Sheppard filled in more details to the story yesterday at a meeting of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, made up of Loretta Scott, Matt Haag, Lovely Warren, and Adam McFadden.
Sheppard said that Hardaway exchanged punches with an officer before the recording started. He said he’d wait for the results of the review to determine if the arresting officer’s behavior was justified, but that Hardaway’s pregnancy doesn’t get her a free pass. Officers are expected to behave a certain way, Sheppard said, but Hardaway is responsible, too, he said, for her own safety and the safety of her unborn child.
“We’re in a circumstance now where people believe it’s OK to fight the cops,” he said.
Most of the committee members at yesterday’s meeting said that they were appalled by the video. And a couple of them said that the chief’s public response up to this point has been “a little insensitive to what people saw” on the video.
Council President Warren commended Sheppard for the community outreach he has done as chief, but said that incidents like the Hardaway video threaten to undermine the chief’s good work and the public’s confidence in the police department.
Warren and McFadden, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, also said that they’ve gotten numerous complaints — Warren said she’s received about 300 calls — over a squad car that patrols black neighborhoods allegedly with a toy monkey in prominent view.
Sheppard said that the department is looking into the monkey allegations.
Sheppard and the committee members talked about holding public meetings so the community and police can share perspectives and concerns.
“There just can’t be much more of this,” Warren said, without trying to bring the community together. She said that Rochester’s race riots of the 1960’s began with a relatively small incident that served as a flashpoint for long-simmering tensions.