NAACP: Damaging Video Out Of Context, But Civil Rights Violations Apparent
Utica, NY (WIBX) - Utica has a problem...
The recently released video that supposedly shows two UPD officers planting drug evidence during a traffic stop has gone viral--creating an atmosphere of complete mistrust between the black community and local law enforcement officials, based on the blatant wrong-doing seen committed by the officers in the one-minute and forty-second video.
The NAACP asked for an investigation into the matter, and even the FBI is involved.
But, wait...that's not the whole story according to UPD Spokesman, Sgt. Steve Hauck, who says that the video was taken out of context. "They took a very very small snippit of a video that showed all types of illegal activity by the people that were in that car, and then it came right down to the very end of it, and it showed a minute-forty of the officer collecting what he found and walking away from the car--that's what it shows."
Hauck says the entire footage is actually 31 minutes long, and if seen in its entirety, will exonirate the officers and the Utica Police Department. However, Venice Ervin, Legal Redress Chairperson for the Utica-Oneida County NAACP, says although the full video depicts something other than what was originally brought to their attention back in October of 2011, the group still feels the need to address what he calls, "other civil rights violations" committed by the officers during the traffic stop on February 11, 2011 . "Watching the 30-minute video, there are numerous civil rights violations in there and that's what we're focusing on, is the civil rights violations that we believe took place during the traffic stop," he said.
According to Venice, the edited version of the video was first brought to the group's attention in October by the two suspects, 51-year-old Grady Jones and 38-year-old Amelia Hunt. The NAACP then took the footage to UPD Chief, Mark Williams, who immediatley launched an official investigation into the matter. That investigation is still on-going.
In the meantime, the weekly newspaper, The Utica Phoenix, responsible for releasing the edited version of the video on YouTube is facing mounting criticism from police officials. Hauck said, "Showing a minute-forty video of a 30-minute video and editing out the parts were the drugs are recovered off of one person and seized by that officer is wreckless and irresponsible, regardless of who did it. It's not something I would expect a member of the media to do."
However, Ervin argues that the UPD should face similar criticism for posting images of suspects, not yet convicted of a crime on its social networking website, Facebook. He said, "For a long time now, we've been getting complaints about the Facebook page that the police department has--just putting people's faces and names on that before they're even convicted of a crime, and they're just being arrested and haven't even been convicted yet. I call that website, 'You're guilty until you're proven innocent.' People have been complaining about that for a long time."
Now that the full video has been released, Ervin says the NAACP will regroup and meet with the two suspects on how to move forward. However, he says that that doesn't mean the two officers handled the search and subsequent arrest properly. "It may be normal procedure to put evidence in your pocket but I think it's something that they should change because it looks very very strange them doing that, you know," he said.
Jones and Hunt both pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of marijuana. Ervin says he hopes the incident serves as an opportunity to continue to foster a better relationship between the UPD and the black community. "I've been a life long resident of Utica and I've seen a lot of racism and I've seen a lot of prejudice--from my own people. So, it's going to be a big task for us to try and come together with the police department, and to be trusted and for the police department to trust us. Because, we have a tough job as community people to try to get people past this. And, the police department has the tough issue too, like Chief Williams said, they're mad and they're upset, and they have to try and rebound and go out and do their jobs without any bias or prejudice against people right now."
Chief Williams says he's committed to building on the relationship the department has with the black community. The on-going investigation is being handled by UPD's Professional Standards Unit. Calls to the Federal Bureau of Investigations based in Albany have not been returned by the time this report was published.
01/05/12 UPDATE: Paul Holstein, Spokesman for the FBI, Albany Division, issued this statement, "The FBI in Albany is aware of this matter, however, it is FBI policy not to confirm or deny the existance of investigations."