Court holds up release of Troy police video of activist’s arrest

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TROY – The prosecution wants to limit the public release of a video filmed in the city police station’s booking area that was supposed to be turned over to the defense in a trespassing case and which may support allegations of police brutality.

Defense attorney Matthew Toporowski wants the video and the police personnel file for Sgt. Sean Kittle  as he prepares to defend Ken Zeoli in a City Court trial on charges of trespassing and marijuana possession, both violations.

The police department video is anticipated to show the interaction between Zeoli and Kittle in the booking area. Zeoli, an activist, has alleged that he suffered a shoulder injury leaving him bloody with his arm in a sling when Kittle arrested him on Aug. 21.

“At a time when electeds and communities are calling for more transparency and accountability in our justice system, the (district attorney) failed to turn over and then moved to block the public release of video evidence and opposed my subpoena for officer disciplinary records,” Toporowski said Wednesday in an email to the Times Union.

The Rensselaer County District Attorney’s Office has cited a section of the law designed to protect confidential informants and victims in its decision to require a hearing, set for Friday afternoon, to obtain a protective order to limit who can view the video.

The district attorney’s office will release the video to Toporowski, but has asked for the court hearing in order to ensure the video doesn’t end up on social media websites, said Susan Mullen Kalafut, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly.

“Nobody’s blocking the video. It has to do with a protective order for protection of its distribution to the wider public,” Kalafut said.

The video potentially will be made public during the trial Zeoli has requested in the case or if he files a federal lawsuit against the city and police department, which his attorney has indicated is his intent. A trial date has not yet been set for the City Court criminal case.

The Times Union filed a freedom of information request with the city of Troy for a copy of the video on Aug. 27, six days after the incident at the police station. The only response the city has provided is that the request was sent to the appropriate department. A Times Union request for more information filed Tuesday was not answered as of the city’s close of business Wednesday.

Zeoli’s confrontation with Kittle came after he went to the State Street police station to file a complaint about the removal of chairs from Barker Park.  The pocket park, two blocks west of the police station at Third and State streets, became a center of protests after the city removed the benches from it to prevent homeless people from hanging out there during the day.  The city has done this before in previous years.

Protesters filmed Zeoli asking Kittle, who was working as the desk sergeant, several times for a complaint form to fill out about the missing chairs. Zeoli said Kittle never gave him the form and that he was eventually arrested.

Zeoli alleged that when he was taken inside the police station he was pushed down stairs and had a seizure during the more than three hours he spent in a holding cell.

After Zeoli was arrested, Troy Assistant Police Chief Dan DeWolf addressed the arrest and said in a statement, “There is a story that the arrested person may have been assaulted by police and that is absolutely false.”

“Deputy Chief Dan DeWolf has called allegations of police brutality ‘absolutely false.’  If that’s true, then why not release the video?” Toporowski said.

Defense attorneys said that they have repeatedly been unable to obtain police personnel records in courts in the county.  The district attorney’s office said it is working with local police agencies on this matter after recent changes in state law no longer shield police personnel files from public scrutiny.

Zeoli also faces a probation violation in Rensselaer County Court after being arrested by city police for criminal mischief. Toporowski has claimed that was retaliation.



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