Rochester police officer Michael Sippel has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge that is based on allegations that he used excessive force in a May incident. Sippel is currently on suspension.
Rochester resident Christopher Pate has said that Officers Sippel and Spenser McAvoy stopped and questioned him about a crime they were investigating. He provided identification proving that he wasn't the suspect they were looking for, he said, but the officers tased him, handcuffed him, and assaulted him. They arrested Pate for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but a judge dismissed the charges. Pate was treated at a hospital for injuries that included fractured occipital and jaw bones.
The Rochester Police Department's Professional Standards Section found that there was enough evidence to charge both Sippel and McAvoy with violating department rules and regulations, and then-Police Chief Michael Ciminelli suspended the two without pay. Ciminelli also asked District Attorney Sandra Doorley to review the case to determine whether the officers should be charged with a crime. Ultimately, only Sippel was charged.
Sippel's defense attorney, Clark Zimmerman, spoke to media after last week's arraignment proceedings. He told media that Sippel wants the community to know that he's a good police officer and was acting within his duties. He said Pate tried to avoid the officers, who were trying to determine whether he was the suspect were looking for.
The "whole thing could have been avoided" if Pate "just stopped and let the police identify who he was," Zimmerman told reporters.
But the Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministry, fired back. In remarks delivered during a press conference, Stewart said Zimmerman "has lied and deliberately misrepresented the facts." He accused Sippel and McAvoy of deliberately escalating the incident and failing to respect Pate's rights.
And, he said, "Historically, there has been a repeated and persistent pattern of excessive force by local police as though people of color have no rights which cops ought to respect."
City officials are still drafting legislation to revise the way Rochester handles citizen complaints about police conduct. City Council President Loretta Scott had hoped to have that legislation ready for a vote earlier this year, but a key question still hasn't been resolved: Who, under state law, can discipline officers.