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Update: RPD terminates Sippel as result of assault conviction

Patti Singer

Michael Sippel leaves court after his conviction May 28, 2019. On June 12, the Rochester Police announced Sippel had been terminated from the department. Photo b Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Update: On June 12, the Rochester Police Department announced that Michael Sippel, as a result of his misdemeanor conviction on May 28 of third-degree assault was terminated from the department effective the date of the conviction.

According to a news release: “Pursuant to the Public Officers Law §30(1)(e), Michael Sippel can no longer be employed by the Rochester Police Department as his misdemeanor conviction constitutes a crime involving a violation of the oath of office.

“Additionally, the City Charter §8A-4 states ‘no person shall remain a member of the Police Department who has been convicted of any crime’ except for motor vehicle related misdemeanors.”

Interim Chief La’Ron D. Singletary issued the following statement: “The Men and Women of the Rochester Police Department do a tremendous job protecting and serving the citizens of Rochester each and every day. I remain steadfast in supporting the officers of this department who go out and place their lives on the line for this community. As a department, we remain committed to working with our residents to strengthen police-community relations and further improve the safety of our City for all.”

The following story was written after Sippel was found guilty in a bench trial:

Rochester Police Officer Michael Sippel was found guilty of third-degree assault against Christopher Pate and is scheduled to be sentenced July 25.

City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse issued the verdict May 28 in a bench trial, which Sippel chose over having a jury hear the case.

“This case has never been about whether police officers can use physical force to effect a valid arrest – they can,” Morse wrote in a one-page decision. “This case has never been about whether citizens can resist arrest whether it is authorized or not – they can’t.

“This case has always been about what happened between Officers McAvoy and Sippel and Christopher Pate on the afternoon of May 5th 2018 and legal issues surrounding that street encounter.”

Sippel and his partner, Officer Spenser McAvoy, attempted to stop Pate because he appeared to resemble a suspect. The incident escalated as Pate first refused to show identification, then showed an ID and repeatedly said he had done so.

Body-camera footage presented at the trial showed the physical confrontation, which resulted in Pate sustaining a broken bone in his face, among other injuries. Sippel was indicted by a Monroe County grand jury. Officer Spenser McAvoy, Sippel’s partner, was not indicted.

“Based on the credible direct and circumstantial evidence before this court, I find the People have dis-proven justification beyond a reasonable doubt and by the same standard proven Michael Sippel guilty . …”

The courtroom stayed quiet after Morse finished reading the decision, which seemed over very quickly.

Sippel stayed behind, talking with supporters. When he emerged, he headed to the exit of the Hall of Justice, not commenting as a cadre of reporters followed him. Sippel is not in custody.

“I think we’re all in shock,” said Sippel’s attorney, Clark Zimmerman.

Courtroom observers seemed to think the officers’ body-worn camera footage was pivotal.

“We felt that the proof came in to show that all the actions taken that day were justified, reasonable and within the scope of his official duties,” Zimmerman said after the verdict.

Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Gina Clark said after the decision that the body-camera footage “was most important piece of evidence in this case. … We believe Judge Morse found justice in this case.”

The Rev. Lewis Stewart of the United Christian Leadership Ministry, said the verdict “is a victory certainly for the community.”

However, he criticized Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley for failing to indict McAvoy, and he also said Sippel should have been indicted on a felony charge rather than a misdemeanor. “If it were a regular citizen that had assaulted someone and broke (a) bone, that person would have been up for a felony charge.”

He also said the case showed the need for a Police Accountability Board “to hold the police accountable and make them transparent.” City Council recently approved legislation for a PAB. Voters will decide in a referendum on Election Day.

After Sippel was found guilty, Zimmerman responded to a question about whether the verdict would have a chilling effect on police.

“I think it puts a definite chilling effect on officers to do their jobs,” the attorney said. “They’re going to be less willing to approach people, to use force because they’re going to be afraid they’re going to get charged criminally.”

Stewart, who recited a list of people of color who he said were victims of force by police, said the chilling effect would be that “police would no longer engage in that type of behavior that Sippel was a primary example of.”

In a statement after the verdict, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said:

“Today’s verdict sends a clear message that the City of Rochester and our Police Department does not, and will not, ever look the other way when our officers act inappropriately. Any allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted.

“I want to thank Judge Morse for his careful and thoughtful deliberation of this case. Today, I ask all citizens of Rochester to respond to this verdict with dignity and grace.

The Rochester Police Department remains committed to building trust and respect with the community it serves. The actions that led to this trial are a reminder that we must rededicate ourselves to this goal. In fact, just today we launched our recruitment efforts to increase diversity within our police department so it reflects the community it serves.”

Interim Police Chief La’Ron Singletary issued the following statement:

“As Interim Chief, I respect the decision of the court. As Interim Chief, I am also limited as to what I can comment on in relation to the outcome of the criminal court case, as there are internal departmental proceedings involving Michael Sippel in which I am responsible for rendering the final disposition. With respect to the court’s decision, the internal departmental proceeding will resume as it had prior to the criminal court case commencing, during which Michael Sippel will remain on suspension from the Rochester Police Department.

The men and women of the Rochester Police Department will continue to protect and serve the citizens of Rochester with PRIDE; and they will do so today, tomorrow, and the day after that. This is evident by the great work that is done daily by the men and women of this organization.”

To read the decision, click the link below.

This story has been updated.