In an 8-0 vote Tuesday night, Council authorized investigating how police handled an incident involving 18-year-old Ricky Bryant Jr. The teenager’s family says he was beaten and seriously injured by police last August during an investigation in which he was ultimately not arrested. Bryant has filed a complaint with the Rochester Police Department and filed a lawsuit in federal district court charging that he was the victim of an illegal search and seizure and that police used excessive force.
Under current city law, a civilian group does review cases involving complaints about police misconduct. But the investigations into those complaints are handled by the police department’s own Professional Standards Section. And the PSS’s findings are then reviewed by the police chief, who decides whether the complaints are well founded. In this particular case, Police Chief Michael Ciminelli sustained some of Bryant’s allegations and found others either unfounded or not provable.
Because investigations are handled solely by the members of the police department, there has been long-standing mistrust of police by some residents, particularly people of color. Activists have complained for years that independent investigations and police oversight are needed.
In requesting a Council investigation into the Bryant case late last week, Council President Loretta Scott and Council member Adam McFadden said that the current police review process “has flaws and increasingly lacks credibility.” Over the years, activists pushing for independent oversight have focused especially on the need for a civilian review group to have subpoena power, so that it can review testimony, police reports, and other material on its own.
In fact, City Council has had that power for years, but it has apparently never exercised it. According to the City Council resolution, Council President Scott may ask for “records, papers, and other evidence” as well as interviews with witnesses in the Bryan case.
And Scott and McFadden’s statement on Friday indicated that Council may ultimately go beyond that. The material they get from their investigation “will allow the Council the opportunity to further analyze the Civilian Review process and how it can be improved,” they said.
“As representatives of the residents of Rochester,” the statement said, “we are committed to correcting the flaws in the system and restructuring it to ensure that the Civilian Review process is as transparent, credible, and effective as possible.”
McFadden said this morning that Council members will meet on Friday to discuss how they’ll proceed with the subpoena and the investigation.