“This is not about the police,” said Councilman Omari Shakur. “This is about bad police.”
Shakur’s testimony was only one part of the over two hour long community forum addressing police grievances on Monday night at the Baptist Temple Church.
Various community members addressed concerns over the state of law enforcement. Grievances would range from personal to general concerns.
“We have one nation,” said Michael Sussman, criminal defense attorney. “The issues of police misconduct permeate the nation as well as this community for generations in one or another form.”
Sussman has brought nearly 400 cases concerning police misconduct to the courts over the last 40 years. He said he “can attest to the fact that frankly it ain’t getting any better.”
“The solutions that have so far been devised have not solved very much of anything,” said Sussman. “However even in that context, many in our county, many in our communities continue to deny what is evident to others of us.”
Earlier in the year, Sequoyah Holmes Fisher was pulled over by a New York State Trooper in the City of Newburgh. She said she had been followed closely for a period of time down to the intersection of Liberty Street and Broadway. Fisher had swerved while driving to avoid a pothole.
“As we were approaching Broadway, right before there was a fire hydrant,” said Fisher. “He threw on his lights.” Fisher proceeded to stop and roll down her windows. She said she had nothing incriminating on her. The officer approached her and asked for license and registration. She asked why he pulled her over, he allegedly responded he wouldn’t tell her until she gave him the requested materials. Fisher then proceeded to call family members.
Fisher couldn’t find her license but gave the trooper her passport and registration instead. “Somehow it turned into me getting out of the car,” said Fisher. “I’m like ‘why do you need me to get out of the car?’” The officer allegedly responded it was because she was occupying the road. Fisher explained she was parked on the side of the road, and it was midnight and there was no traffic. She responded to the officer that she wasn’t comfortable getting out. The officer allegedly responded she had tinted windows, and she was driving erratically. Fisher responded that there were potholes that she was trying to avoid.
“He’s like, ‘you need to get out of the car now, before I take you out,’” said Fisher. Fisher said she tried to record the situation with her cell phone. The officer allegedly threw her phone into the car and broke the back camera of her phone. Still, Fisher managed to pull some footage of the interaction.
“I ended up getting thrown against my car, being detained for,” said Fisher. “I guess, I don’t really know what, he never really said what for.” Fisher is around 120 pounds. Fisher’s family members then intervened in the situation.
Fisher received three tickets. Allegedly more than five unmarked vehicles, and a few state troopers showed up at the scene. She asked to speak to the supervisor and was allegedly denied many times.
A week and a half ago, Fisher encountered the same state trooper who pulled her over originally. The trooper allegedly pulled her over again. The trooper once again asked for license and registration, and she once again asked why he pulled her over. He once again didn’t give an explanation right away.
“You look like someone who doesn’t have a license,” he allegedly said.
“She’s a six-year marine,” said Cindy Holmes, former city council woman and Fisher’s aunt. “She’s an active duty national army guard right now, and she works at West Point as a supervisor. I’m very disturbed and I’m very upset.”
"Integrity is paramount to the New York State Police, and all allegations of misconduct are promptly and thoroughly investigated by the State Police Professional Standards Bureau,” said Beau Duffy, Director of Public Information for the New York State Troopers over email on Tuesday afternoon. “Those who are found to be in violation of our policies and procedures are held fully accountable. The Professional Standards Bureau conducts approximately 500 investigations into allegations of employee misconduct each year.”
Natasha Dennis, a community activist and resident, criticized the city’s joint law enforcement efforts with the New York State Troopers, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Orange County District Attorney, and Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force.
“We’re trying to get them out of here,” said Dennis outside of the forum. “They have to go, they’re disrespectful.”
“The joint law enforcement effort was created as a response to community demands to address violence, specifically shootings and shots fired complaints, coming from the east end of the city,” said City of Newburgh Police Lieutenant Joseph Burns over email on Tuesday morning.
According to Burns, out of 32,302 calls for service to the City of Newburgh Police Department in 2019, there were 188 responses that required force due to resistance. Of those use of force reports, there were only two excessive force complaints. For all of 2019, the police department only received 12 other non-force related complaints.
“I’ve looked over our numbers from 2019 and there seems to be a disconnect between actual numbers and community believed numbers,” said Burns.
Burns said the police community relations board reviews all citizen complaints. “The consistent problem that [now resigned] Chief Solomon had was the board’s inability to have enough members show up to form a quorum,” said Burns.
City Councilman Anthony Grice said he is interested in established community based organizations for social issues, having police officers walk the streets, and having officers that reflect the community.
“We are discussing the police reforms and what it means to defund the police,” said Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde over text on Tuesday morning. “It is a pivotal time, I’m in support of the plan and reshaping community policing! It’s long overdue!”
“We will continue to maintain public safety and public trust,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey on Tuesday morning. “We are all in this together! We are fully aware of the issues that have to be addressed and improved. But the first thing was to maintain public safety and guidance through a historical global pandemic!”
“Let’s continue moving forward! Let’s not be distracted by divisive rhetoric! Let’s continue to focus on the reforms and improvements needed. Let’s continue the great work of our community that was happening prior to COVID19. We are committed to improving the quality of our city.”