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Sippel Sentencing Moved Again; Ex-RPD Officer Files Legal Complaint

Patti Singer

Hall of Justice. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The sentencing of Michael Sippel, the former Rochester Police Department officer found guilty in May of assaulting Christopher Pate in 2018, has been moved again – seemingly for the final time.

Sippel originally was scheduled to be sentenced in July. The date was moved to August, and then to Sept. 9.

Now, it is set for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 16, and that date apparently is etched in stone.

Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Gina Clark, who prosecuted the case, said the defense requested time to file paperwork associated with a motion to have City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse overturn the verdict. Clark said Morse instructed the defense that the sentencing date will not be moved again.

Morse ruled in a bench trial that Sippel was guilty of third-degree assault against Pate in May 2018.

Clark said a motion to set aside or modify the verdict is common in high-profile cases. But it’s unlikely to be upheld in a bench trial, in which the judge and not a jury rendered the verdict.

“You’re asking for the judge to change his mind,” Clark said, adding that the motion is more procedural if the defense files an appeal.

Sippel’s attorney, Clark Zimmerman, said some of the delay was due to the normal turning of the wheels of justice.

He said that after a verdict is rendered, the presentencing investigation for someone not in custody can take eight to 10 weeks, sometimes longer. He said that investigation was not completed by the initial July 25 sentencing date. “That would be a typical delay,” he said.

Zimmerman said further delays resulted from preparation to file the motion to set aside the verdict. He said the most recent postponement was because of “a request … related to some health concerns …” but he declined to specify the concerns or say who was affected.

Clark said the delays have been a little frustrating for the prosecution because they draw out the process. “We like to see things get done,” she said.

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

Sippel and McAvoy attempted to stop Pate because he appeared to resemble a suspect. The incident escalated over whether Pate showed ID. Pate repeatedly said that he was not the person the officers sought.

As a result of the misdemeanor conviction, Sippel was fired from the Rochester Police Department.

The city released the body camera footage in early July.

On Aug. 5, Pate filed a lawsuit against the city of Rochester, Sippel, McAvoy, four other officers, a sergeant and “other unidentified members of the Rochester Police Department.”

On Aug. 27, Sippel filed a complaint in state Supreme Court charging libel, slander and defamation of character against Mayor Lovely Warren, former police chief Michael Ciminelli, and the Rev. Lewis Stewart.

The complaint said Sippel and his partner “reasonably believed” that Pate was the suspect sought by officers and “on that basis had the legal right to detain Defendant Pate … .”

The complaint alleged that during a news conference on Aug. 28, 2018, Warren and Ciminelli falsely accused Sippel of “racially motivated professional misconduct and criminal behavior.” The complaint alleged that the slanders led to his wrongful termination from the police department.

The complaint alleged Stewart made false statements at a news conference.

The complaint said Sippel suffered “severe humiliation and public embarrassment and mental anguish over these false allegations.”

An email sent to the city communications office after noon on Sept. 6 did not get an immediate response.

Stewart said he had not been officially notified of the complaint, but said, “He feels he has to go after somebody in order to justify what he did. If he wants to go after somebody, it should more than likely be the city. Instead, he pursues me, an advocate for social justice, knowing that he was in the wrong.”

This story was updated Sept. 6 with comments from attorney Clark Zimmerman and information about the complaint filed by Michael Sippel.