Press Conference! Release of New Police Accountability Proposal.

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The Police Accountability Board Organizing Committee is excited to announce a new campaign for police accountability and transparency with the public release of “The Case for an Independent Police Accountability System: Transforming the Civilian Review Process in Rochester NY.” Highly praised by Police accountability expert and University of Nebraska Professor Emeritus Dr. Samuel Walker as “The best such proposal from a community that I have ever seen…a truly impressive report.” This is an energizing proposal for change, transparency, and true justice.

The press conference will be held on Tuesday April 11 at 10:30AM at the Inner Faith Gospel Tabernacle (32 York St., Rochester, NY).

Read the full proposal here or an abbreviated version here.

Show up and show your support for police accountability!

(Image: CC image courtesy of Nile Livesey from Flickr)

“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy!”


If you can’t tell, by all the explanation marks, we are very excited about this!  Please join us!

Watch: “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy!”
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Flying Squirrel Community Space
285 Clarissa St.
Rochester, NY
Suggested Donation: $5

About: Greg Palast and his investigative side-kick Badpenny do what it takes to get their hands on the data, analyze it and go find some of these 7.2 million Americans tagged “suspects” and “potential duplicate voters” whose votes were threatened this past November. Link to official trailer below.


New York State Civil Rights Law 50-a: The Anti-Transparency Law Creating a Safe Haven for Corrupt Police Officers in NY State

New York State Civil Rights Law 50-a: The Anti-Transparency Law Creating a Safe Haven for Corrupt Police Officers in NY State

New York State Civil Rights Law 50-a:

The Anti-Transparency Law Creating a Safe Haven for Corrupt Police Officers in NY State

So what the Heck is NY Civil Rights Law 50-a anyway?

New York civil rights law section 50-a provides blanket exclusion from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) for ANY police department documents that could potentially be used to evaluate an officer.


Find out more!

What is 50-a?

EIE_Civil rights law 50-a Handout.pdf

The law itself:

NYS Civil Rights Law 50-a info sheet.pdf

Professional Standards Section: How they work (at least on paper)

Professional Standards Section: How they work (at least on paper)


On April 10, 2015, the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform (CPR) invited Professional Standards Section (PSS) (the Rochester Police Department’s internal affairs unit) to present on what they do and how they operate. Listen to the audio with notes above.

The presenters were Lieutenant Michael Callari, PSS Commanding Officer and Sergeant Robert Snow, PSS Investigating Sergeant.

Listening to the Lieutenant and the Sergeant, I was struck by the obvious deployment of public relations jujitsu and propaganda, where the PSS mission “…is to preserve the integrity and professionalism of the RPD.” I did not hear “hold officers accountable,” nor did I see any sign of meaningful transparency or justice. Ask either of these guys to talk to you about their “unbiased” investigations or about the integrity of their investigative process, and I’m sure they could have gone on for days. I did hear about certain New York State laws that make police disciplinary records inaccessible to the public because of confidentiality concerns and that if we wanted to change the system, it needed to be done legislatively, by us, not these same officers supposedly interested in justice, transparency, and truth.

When I raised two specific cases, Russell Davis and Benny Warr (see below), I was given evasive answers like, “We can’t talk about specific cases,” or “You don’t know the whole story,” which concluded for me that PSS has no interest in actually doing what they claim on the website (different from the mission): “…that official police misconduct will not be tolerated…” Further, all of PSS’s findings are sent to the chief of police for final disciplinary action. He has the final say in any discipline, not PSS. The Civilian Review Board (CRB), administered by the Center for Dispute Settlement, works the same way. So, if you want to call justice the “accountability system” we have now, then it’s no wonder that we have such a lack of meaningful justice.

Efficacy of the process

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Russell Davis, an African American man who was assaulted by police (immediately held at gun point by multiple officers; he was wrestled to the ground; he received a gash in his head; his handcuffs were too tight which caused bleeding; he was forced to sit in a car for 45 min. to an hour without medical attention) on August 5, 2006 outside his apartment complex on Dewey Avenue. He was then taken to the hospital where he was taunted by officers as he was receiving aid. He was not charged with a crime. Knowing misconduct had occurred, he attempted to use the CRB process and made a complaint at PSS. The PSS sergeant who investigated his complaint and subsequently found no basis for it was Sgt. Ronald Malley. He was the same officer who ordered that Mr. Davis be assaulted on that day in August. When I spoke with Mr. Davis on October 25, 2011, he said he was outraged, not only that his case was dismissed for “no basis,” but more specifically because Sgt. Malley, who ordered six to ten officers to assault him, refused to recuse himself from the case.

Russell Davis

“How can you be involved with an assault on a civilian by the police and you is in charge of these police, and you turn around and investigate the incident?” he said in our video interview. “What kind of police department we got going on here in Rochester, New York?”

He found the CRB/PSS process “a waste of time.” He called the process “a hoax.” He also said that because of the assault, he “fears for his life” whenever he sees the police.

“What remedy do I have?” he asked, when trying to make sense of a system of “accountability” that failed him.

In Mr. Davis’ case, it took about two years to get a ruling, which didn’t find in his favor. (PSS assured us in their power point presentation that the final letter to the complainant goes out on or about day 162 in this process.) This was after he had heard nothing about his case and decided to call then-Chief of Police David Moore every couple of months for updates. Near the end of the interview, Mr. Davis made clear his demands: an independent civilian review board with subpoena power, that complaints not be investigated by law enforcement officers named in them, and that the federal government conduct an intensive review and investigation of the Rochester Police Department.

Another case of interest was that of Emily Good, who was arrested while video taping a racially motivated traffic stop from her front lawn with her ipod, by officer Mario Masic. Masic goes by the alias “Cowboy”—a name given to him by the community as a sign of danger—which he co-opted for his own use. Masic has worn the moniker proudly for years. To this day, he continues to terrorize civilians on the westside of the city.

Emily Good

A week after Ms. Good’s video of the traffic stop and her arrest went viral on the internet, someone—and all indications point to the police or their allies, although there was no hard evidence—broke into her home, stole her money and the very ipod she used to film the traffic stop. Another roommate’s possessions were rummaged through, but nothing was taken. No DVDs, CDs, electronics, computers, or anything else in plain sight was taken from the house. The kitchen door, in the back of the house, was bashed in; the frame of the door was cracked and broken.

Ms. Good refused to use the CRB and PSS processes because she felt that they were never meant to actually dispense meaningful justice. In a conversation I had with her on March 18, 2015, she texted, “I have no confidence in the process. The police get to make the ultimate decision about what happens. When police came to my house, [8 cars deep with an investigation van] I felt intimidated and didn’t want them involved.” To date, there has been no comment or advancement on the “investigation” into who broke into Ms. Good’s home.

Finally, there is the ongoing case of Benny Warr, a disabled, African American man who was thrown from his motorized wheelchair and subsequently beat by officers Joseph “Joey” Ferrigno, Anthony “Rock” Liberatore, and Sgt. Mitchell “Bigface” Stewart.

Benny Warr

Mr Warr’s lawyer, Charles F. Burkwit, advised him to go through with the PSS investigation—counsel was present—with the understanding that the findings would be turned over to the CRB. It took Mr. Burkwit a year to get the PSS findings (nearly 365 days) in which, the report used the narrative of the police as fact, independent eye-witnesses—including the videographer who taped the brutality—were never contacted, no in-depth second-by-second or minute-by-minute analysis of the police department’s blue light surveillance camera footage was done, and contradictory statements made by the officers didn’t seem to register with police investigators.

Finally, the city’s attorney, Spencer Ash, went on the record in an affidavit dated November 7, 2014, saying that, “there was no Civilian Review Board review of this matter.”

In a phone conversation I had with Mr. Burkwit on March 17, 2015, he said, “I think the PSS does a very careful and calculated analysis of evidence. And if they choose to disregard or ignore evidence—I saw that in the case of Benny Warr, where certain important parts of evidence were not noted; especially, in my opinion, if you compare the blue light camera footage with the officers’ sworn statements and testimony, there were plenty of inconsistencies.”

Regarding the CRB, Mr. Burkwit concluded, “Therefore, I think the Civilian Review Board cannot just rely on the Professional Standards Section findings as conclusive proof. The Civilian Review Board needs to conduct their own independent investigation. They need to review and scrutinize the investigative work the police have done and they need to decide whether the investigation was accurate or incorrect or if it was partially correct. The Civilian Review board needs to take a much closer look at these cases and not just rely upon the police department’s findings.”

Sadly, the 1992 legislation that created the CRB explicitly denied it the investigatory powers called for by Mr. Burkwit.

Where do we go from here?

Right now, work is being done on multiple fronts. Enough Is Enough, an anti-police brutality organization, is putting together a database of police misconduct. They are also working on improving their Know Your Rights and Copwatch trainings. Enough Is Enough collects stories from people abused by the police in order to humanize and publicize the reality coming out of our community. The organization is always looking for motivated people to put time and effort into these projects.

The Rochester Coalition for Police Reform is currently developing its five-point Community Safety Agenda: 1) body cameras for the RPD (check out their Body Worn Camera policy recommendations for City Council), 2) an independent civilian review board with subpoena power and investigative authority, 3) anti-racism training for all officers at the police academy, 4) an end to racial profiling (Stop and Frisk), and 5) right to consent to search procedures where police must inform people of their rights before they act. The coalition is always looking for new partners and volunteers with the passion to make meaningful change.

Finally, there is legislative work that needs to get done. Those laws I alluded to above need to be rescinded and abolished for true community justice and transparency. These are the same institutions that we fund with our tax dollars. Also, in abdicating control over a police force that is given the authority to detain, arrest, and murder civilians, we need to have as much transparency as possible in order to remain vigilant to abuses of power. Those laws we need to rewrite or abolish are:

  • NYS Civil Rights Law 50–a provides that personnel records of police officers shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, or court order.
  • The Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Locust Club police union, Article 20, Discipline.
  • NYS Civil Service Law, Sections 75 and 76.
    • No disciplinary proceedings shall be commenced more than eighteen (18) months after occurrence of the alleged incompetence or misconduct, except in those instances that would constitute a crime
    • Disciplinary records of police personnel are confidential.

It’s time to start pushing back on legislation and procedures that protect those in power and the abusers of power. Hypocrisy isn’t justice. Enough is enough.

Documents handed out from PSS on April 10, 2015: Professional Standards Section Documentation

Related: Rochester Businessman & Activist sues Rochester Police Department for sixth consecutive time | The Civilain Review Board Commission Recommendations Leave Out the Civilian | A rebuttal to the PSS investigation of allegations against officers from Benny Warr’s lawyer | Chief Sheppard’s statement regarding arrest video

Civilian Review Board built to fail Benny Warr and other complainants

Civilian Review Board built to fail Benny Warr and other complainants

On August 25, 2015, Benny Warr was back in federal court before Judge Marian Payson. Specifically, his lawyer Charles F. Burkwit, was demanding—again—that the City of Rochester hand over the discovery documentation that it was ordered to turn over in April. Mr. Burkwit has been battling with the city for discovery for over a year—since May 15, 2014 when he originally served papers on the city. In response, the city has been unwilling or unable to give Mr. Burkwit the requested documentation.

On May 1, 2013, Benny T. Warr was waiting for the bus in his motorized wheelchair at the intersection of Bartlett St. and Jefferson Ave., near his home. As he was waiting for the bus, a Rochester police cruiser rolled up to the intersection and told people to move on. When they approached Mr. Warr, he responded by saying he was only waiting for the bus. According to Mr. Warr, the officers then maced him in the face and proceeded to throw him out of his chair where he was kicked, punched, and kneed by police while on the ground. He was put in handcuffs for nearly two hours until he received care at Strong Memorial Hospital for his injuries. He sustained broken and fractured ribs, numbness in his hands, neck injuries, internal injuries, and cuts on his wrists. The attack left him with nightmares, flash-backs, short-term memory loss, a change in personality, and physical mobility issues such as being unable to use his prosthesis.

In January of 2015, Mr. Burkwit filed a motion to compel the city to release discovery documentation in federal court. What made the August 25 hearing so unique, was that Mr. Burkwit used a different tactic: rather than continuing to battle with the city, he subpoenaed the Center for Dispute Settlement (CDS), the non-profit corporation that administers the Civilian Review Board (CRB), as well as the panelists who reviewed Mr. Warr’s case. The subpoenas demanded all documentation regarding complaints of excessive force from 2011 to 2014.

Going back, Mr. Warr filed a civil suit against the city, then-Police Chief James Sheppard, Sgt. Mitchell Stewart, and officers Joseph M. Ferrigno and Anthony R. Liberatore on September 19, 2013. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, legal fees, and a change in policy regarding “policies and customs of ‘Operation Cool Down,’ ‘Clearing the Block’ and/or ‘Clearing the Street’” that would restrict officers from “aggressively approach[ing], stop[ping] and engag[ing] citizens . . . without reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring” and that this “policy or custom violates and infringes upon the constitutional rights [of the people of Rochester, NY] to be free from unlawful stops, searches and seizures and excessive force.”

At court that day, aside from the 12 – 15 Benny Warr supporters, were the city’s lawyer Spencer Ash, CDS’s lawyer, Ted Kantor, President and CEO of CDS Sherry Walker-Cowart, and Director Police/Community Relations Programs Frank Liberti. The folks from CDS seemed nervous at the hearing. From what was gleaned, they ought to be nervous.

Starting with Mr. Warr’s case, some very important details came out. The first detail was that Mr. Warr’s excessive force complaint was, in fact, reviewed by the CRB. This revelation was a complete turnaround from what Ash had stated in open court through an affidavit dated November 7, 2014, where he wrote that “there was no Civilian Review Board review of this matter.” The officers who were caught on video brutalizing Mr. Warr were exonerated by the CRB—meaning the board ruled in the officers’ favor.

Another detail in Mr. Warr’s case involved two CRB panelists who made questionable comments on their voting sheets. The comments and the panelists deserve to be investigated. One commented on Sgt. Andrew McPherson specifically. The actual comment was not read in open court. Mr. Burkwit argued that his client had a right to know what made Sgt. McPherson special enough to be commented on by the panelist.

Another CRB panelist who reviewed Mr. Warr’s complaint was quoted by Mr. Burkwit in open court as writing on the voting sheet, “There are times—Civilian Review Board training may not be adequate enough to agree with Professional Standards Section’s findings.”

Both comments are extremely problematic. If the court allows city attorney Ash to discuss the outcome of the CRB review with the jury at Mr. Warr’s trial and Mr. Burkwit is denied the opportunity to depose the panelists who heard Mr. Warr’s complaint, then this would create severe prejudice in the jury as Mr. Burkwit would be unable to adequately defend his client.

Judge Payson began by denying the motion to depose the panelists. After the issues regarding the comments were raised, she reserved decision on whether or not they could be deposed.

Let’s move onto details about the CRB process itself. The city provided some documentation to Mr. Burkwit with each consecutive order from the judge. This leads us to the first important detail regarding the CRB process: 49% of excessive force complaintsfrom 2011 to 2014 (72 complaints out of 146) apparently were not investigated by Professional Standards Section (PSS). City attorney Ash restated his case numerous times in court that he had handed over to Mr. Burkwit all documentation requested and ordered by the judge.

Mr. Burkwit explained that there were three parts to each excessive force complaint, that he needs, in order for the complaint to be of any use: the PSS investigation and summary, the findings and voting sheets of the CRB panelists in each complaint, and the chief of police’s final determination in each complaint.

Of the 146 excessive force complaints registered between 2011 to 2014 that the judge had previously ordered the city to provide, Mr. Burkwit has gotten 74 PSS summaries (including Mr. Warr’s), 2 findings and voting sheets from the CRB (Mr. Warr’s case and PSS case No. 09-0971, which was ordered disclosed by the judge), and 14 final determinations from the chief (one is for Mr. Warr’s case). There are, at this point, apparently 72 unaccounted for civilian complaints regarding excessive use of force that do not appear to have a PSS record number. Also, apparently none of the 72 complaints have been investigated by PSS, passed onto the CRB for a determination, and then ruled on by the chief as per the CRB law and the city’s own website. The only case where Mr. Burkwit has been able to put the three puzzle pieces together are his client’s—Mr. Benny T. Warr.

Judge Payson pointed out to Ash that when it comes to excessive force, the city’s website regarding the CRB is clear:

If your complaint includes excessive force or charges an officer with a crime, it will also be reviewed by a Civilian Review Board (CRB). The Board includes three citizens who are not members of the Police Department. The CRB will review your complaint, statements from all witnesses and reports from the investigation. The CRB may ask for additional information before making its recommendations to the Police Chief. The CRB may also choose to interview witnesses. The Police Chief reviews investigations and makes the final decision on all complaints.”

When the judge asked Ash why Mr. Burkwit had only 74 PSS investigative summaries (one being Mr. Warr’s) but only two CRB findings (again, one being Mr. Warr’s) and 14 final determinations from the chief of police (of which one was connected to Mr. Warr), his response was lukewarm. Ash said, “Your honor, I work in the law department for the city. The law department is not apart of the Rochester Police Department,” completely brushing off the judge’s direct question and the legislation that gives the CRB power.

Another eye-opening detail about the CRB process itself is that when the CRB transmits its findings to the chief of police, they do not do it on their own or directly. According to CDS’s attorney, Ted Kantor, the CRB leaves a voicemail message on the phone at the PSS office, which is then transcribed. That transcription is then transmitted to the chief of police by PSS—not the CRB.

When Judge Payson asked attorney Kantor about the CRB process, he also revealed that when the CRB panelists are deliberating on a complaint, there is no recording or stenographic transcription of their deliberations. Each panelist marks on their own tally sheet how they are voting. They have the option of leaving a comment on the sheet if they want. Aside from the voicemail and the transcription done by a PSS officer, no other record exists.

Court concluded with some very specific orders from the judge. City attorney Ash has until September 8 to provide an affidavit from the head of PSS, Lieutenant Michael Callari, explaining that PSS does not have the chief’s findings or the CRB findings. Mr. Burkwit was given until September 1 to send the judge a letter outlining the cases he’s asked for, what he has, and what’s missing.

Mr. Burkwit complied–will city attorney Ash?

Additional information: Ivery & Warr in court: Demand city hand over excessive force documentation | Professional Standards Section: How they work (at least on paper) | Exonerating police misconduct: no accountability in Benny Warr case