Video of Christopher Pate being wrestled to the ground and having police turn a Taser on him after an exchange over whether he showed officers his identification in a timely manner continues to haunt Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and now the public can see the images she said still leave her heart troubled.
The 55-minute video from police body-camera footage comes with a warning about its graphic nature. The video captures the exchange between Officers Michael Sippel and Spenser McAvoy from several angles and at different times throughout the encounter with Pate on the afternoon of May 5, 2018 on Fulton Avenue.
Footage shows Pate pushed to the ground and then blood on the sidewalk, prongs from a Taser hitting his body, sitting in the back seat of a patrol car pleading for mercy and apologizing for his actions.
“My family comes from the segregated South,” Warren said Tuesday at a City Hall news conference, the day after the video was released under Freedom of Information Law. “To see a man in this day and age treated inhumanely was what hurt because I know people that have been treated like that. That was back in 1964. We’re talking about … 2018 that this happens in our city, after the riots of ’64. That was the most troubling, that they treat him as if he was not human.”
Sippel was indicted by a Monroe County grand jury, and some of the video was shown at his bench trial before Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse. Sippel was convicted in May 2019 of misdemeanor third-degree assault and is scheduled to be sentenced July 25. Sippel was fired in June by the Rochester Police Department.
McAvoy was not indicted. He remains suspended with pay pending the conclusion of internal departmental proceedings, according to RPD.
Footage also captures audio of officers talking to each other and to Pate. At one point, an officer is heard telling Pate that basically he brought everything on himself.
“The display of anger that was … there’s no words that I can express besides that I’m sorry this has happened to you, it happened this way,” Warren said, speaking slowly.
“I can tell you, we don’t train that,” Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said at the news conference. “It’s conduct that was unbecoming.”
Singletary said the officers were held accountable for their actions. “Accountability is the word of the day.”
He also said that Sippel and McAvoy were two officers of more than 700 in the department. While he was not minimizing their actions, he said their conduct “is not representative of the rest of the men and women who work for the Rochester Police Department.”
The Rev. Lewis Stewart, who consistently calls for police accountability, said the video shows “police-community relations in Rochester need to be improved. I think it manifests the attitude of police culture toward people of color. It shows that police culture must be changed. … “What is important is the issue of police culture and how the police silently and secretively, or openly, support one another. I think it indicates the widening gulf between the police and the black community, and many feel the police are not there to serve and protect but to harass and arrest.”
At one point on the video, one of the officers remarks that “everyone thinks the white cop is always after the black guy.”
The situation ended up being one of mistaken identity.
Warren said the relationship between citizens and police should not be adversarial.
“We know policing is not done in a vacuum, it’s not done in silos, it’s done together,” she said. “The community and the police have to work together in order to combat crime. We need the community to be able to trust us not only with information but also with our conduct to know we are there to support them. If someone goes outside of their training, outside of what our expectations are and what the book says, they will be held accountable.”
Stewart said the video shows that police are not above the law. He also said he would not be surprised if Sippel received probation when sentenced.
What’s in the video
Warren said the video was taken from images of body cameras worn by all the officers at the scene. Footage primarily is of the actions and comments of Sippel and McAvoy throughout. Because of federal privacy laws relating to health care, images of Pate being cared for at the hospital are blurred and the audio with medical professionals is cut. Audio of the officers is heard.
At about 6 minutes into the video, Pate repeatedly says, “You have my ID” as he’s told to put his hands behind his back and then sent to the ground. An officer appears to hold Pate’s head as he continues to say they have his ID, that it’s on the ground. Drops of blood can be seen on the sidewalk. Pate is told to stop resisting. Officers tell Pate he will be Tased, and the sound of the device can be heard and the prongs are visible.
Police tell Pate he looks like a person they are looking for, they say he is uncooperative and they say he won’t show his ID. They tell Pate that he makes this worse than it is. “If you’d stopped, this would all be over,” one says.
The officers tell Pate at a patrol car that he looked like “a guy on our wanted board.” Police said they will charge Pate with jaywalking and resisting arrest and tell him he’s going to jail.
Pate: “Please … I am so sorry … “
In the police car, Pate repeatedly says he’s sorry and for a few minutes pleads for mercy. “Please, please, please, I am so sorry for my attitude. I am … Please, please, please, can you help me. I am so sorry. I thought showing my ID the first time was enough. … Please can you give me another chance. … I sincerely apologize.”
He repeatedly says, “Please … these cuffs hurt.” He says he was wrong for his actions and his attitude, that he said he should have cooperated and he continues to plead.
An officer does come to loosen the handcuffs and tell Pate that an ambulance will take him to the hospital. Pate says he was just getting cigarettes and then heading to another location.
At about 22 minutes, Pate can still be heard pleading. The officers then joke, “Things you don’t want to do for a thousand, Alex. Paperwork all night, thank you,” a seeming reference to the game show Jeopardy.
Pate is seen looking slumped in the back of the patrol car, the left side of his face swollen. He appears to mutter to himself. The officers continue to joke about the prospect of paperwork. The audio is muffled by the sound of wind.
At the hospital, even though the image is blurred, police tell Pate after he received medical attention that he will be handcuffed to the bed.
Later parts of the video show images of the encounter from different angles.
Pate has filed a notice of claim with the city, but a lawsuit has yet to be filed. Warren said the city is communicating with Pate’s attorney and will be “until this situation is resolved.”
As Sippel was on trial, Rochester City Council passed legislation calling for a Police Accountability Board. Its fate rests with voters in a referendum on Nov. 5.
Asked about whether the release of the video of the encounter with Pate will affect the outcome, Singletary said, “I can’t speak for the voters. I want the process to be fair on both sides. If the community wants an accountability board, my job as police chief is to implement that.”