Sunday, January 27, 2019

Rochester, NY City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse: A Fair Judge.



Rochester, NY City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse



By Davy V.

On November 15, 2018, I went to cover the arraignment of suspended Rochester, NY Police Officer Michael Sippel in Rochester City Court.

Sippel is accused of brutally beating Christopher Pate, a black man, in a case of mistaken identity.

Pate, who was handcuffed, beaten, and tasered during the incident, suffered injuries including a fractured oscipital bone.

Instead of entering the court, I decided to wait outside for Sippel to exit, in order to ask him some questions.

About an hour later, Rochester Police Officer Michael Sippel
walked out of court, accompanied by his mother.

Along with several Rochester news media reporters and camerapersons, I followed Officer Sippel while recording video.

As I was walking alongside Officer Sippel, I encountered a granite wall abutment which extends from the Rochester City Court building.

In order to avoid running into the wall, I tried going around the wall, squeezing through a small space, and accidentally brushed by Officer Sippel’s mother.

Immediately, Officer Sippel’s mother, who works for the Monroe County, NY Sheriffs Office, yelled; “Did you just bump into me? I’m gonna have you arrested.”

A few seconds later I was surrounded by several Monroe County, NY Sheriffs deputies, who arrested, and charged me with harassment.

On January 18, 2019, after an emotional nearly four hour long trial, I was found not guilty by Rochester, NY City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse.

But this isn’t so much about me or my case as it is about Judge Morse.

Let me explain.

Over the years I’ve covered countless Court cases including arraignments and trials.

And as result, I’ve gotten to know some of the Judges.

In fact some Judges I’ve known for years.

Take, for example, Rochester City Court Judge Jack Elliott, who I’ve known for over 15 years ever since our children attended the same elementary school.

Judge Elliott is a good man and a very fair Judge.

And he’s always treated me with respect.

Whenever I’ve sat in Judge Elliott’s court, he will publicly greet me with a big “Hello Davy V.!” which usually gets a chuckle from folks in the courtroom including the court deputies.

With that said, there’s some Judges who although I may be familiar with their names, I don’t really know.

Like Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse.

At my arraignment, in Rochester City Court, Judge Morse ‘kept it 100’ as the new generation likes to say, or as my generation called it, he ‘kept it real’ as he laid down the law (no pun intended) as to what he expects when it comes to courtroom decorum.

Before court began, Judge Morse stood up and in a stern voice let everyone know there was absolutely no talking allowed in his courtroom.

But as usual, there’s always that one person who doesn’t  listen.

That’s when Judge Morse rose from his seat and yelled at a defendant who was talking.

He threatened to throw the defendant in jail if they opened their mouth again.

Let’s just say that person didn’t make another sound.

Judge Morse then threatened to confiscate anyone’s phone if he saw anyone using their cell phone.

It was pretty much at this point where I thought Judge Morse is definitely not with the bullshit.

Let’s just say if you’re ever in front of Judge Morse, just know he runs a very strict court.

As he should.

I mean, if there’s two pet peeves I can’t stand is people talking and using their cell phones in court, or at the movies.

With that said, however tough and strict Judge Morse may have come across, I quickly realized he was a genuine person.

He treated each and every defendant who stood in front of him with respect.

Judge Morse even offered advice to some defendants on how precious life is, and just how quickly it can be over, citing the South Carolina mass church shooting, as well as the Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida as examples of just how fragile life is.

But perhaps the best examples of what a good and genuine person Judge Morse is, were two small but very significant acts of kindness which happened during my trial.

The first act of kindness and respect came at the beginning of the trial when Judge Morse, noticing no one had water,  took his robe off, walked outside the courtroom and returned a few minutes later with bottles of water for me and my attorney Brandon Hellwig, as well as for the Monroe County Assistant  District Attorney Gina Clark.

Judge Morse’s second act of kindness came during a very emotional part of the trial for me.

Judge Morse called a recess, told everyone to remain seated, then walked off the bench and into his chambers.

A couple of  minutes later Judge Morse returned with a box of tissue and placed it in front of me on the defense table.

I’ll never forget that.

At one moment during my trial, Judge Morse even allowed me to take time to call my son who had gone home early from school because he wasn’t feeling well.

Judge Morse then asked me if I was able to reach my son and asked me how my son was doing.

My Dad Mario Vara used to say that you can learn a lot about a person just by simply observing how they interact with, and treat others.

This is so true.

I’ll never forget the respect and compassion Judge Morse showed me.

Shortly after I was arrested, several attorneys who follow my blog and my YouTube channel, upon hearing that Judge Morse was presiding over my case, each told me the same two things about Judge Morse.

First, that he’s a very fair Judge.

Second, that he loves to talk.

I can honestly say that both are very true.

After announcing that he had found me not guilty, Judge Morse gave me some advice.

He spoke about using better judgment when covering news stories.

Judge Morse also talked about Princess Diana and how she died while being chased by paparazzis.

Gary Craig, a senior reporter for Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle newspaper once told me Judge Morse was a good man and also very philosophical.

This also is very true.

Although my brushing by Officer Sippel’s mother in the media rush to ‘get the story and the shot’ was not intentional, I understood what Judge Morse said to me.

And if nothing else I have learned from this experience, to keep a safe distance and to stay as far away as possible from individuals who have an axe to grind.

I’m happy Judge Morse saw that in no way were my actions intentional, and as a result found me not guilty.

Judge Morse is a good man and a fair Judge.

Thank you Judge Morse.

You helped restore my faith in our criminal justice system.






















Wednesday, January 9, 2019

WHEC Did The Right Thing In Firing Jeremy Kappell. Here’s Why.





By MJ Vara

People are totally giving Mr. Kappell a pass on this. Well, if what he did was so innocuous he’ll be employed here or at some other city within weeks.

They say it was a "simple" mistake (what a totally weird mistake -- to conflate a common English surname and noun -- "King" -- with a racist slur -- which is “a thing” racists do use that term as part of MLK's name!

People defend Jeremy Kappell saying WHEC owes him better (he has created a huge mess for his contractual employer!), that we would "forgive" him (that is a process that takes time to heal -- and comes after the "sinner" has fully accepted responsibility for the act and damage that arises from it.

I wish Mr. Kappell well (I have no reason to wish him ill) and I wish his wife and children the best (they’re completely innocent — even of making an error in this matter).
But Kappell brought this down on himself and the circumstances are suspect.

For those who think Mr. Kappell is the victim of "liberal snowflakes” and a liberal media, etc. quite the contrary: this is solid, American, capitalist, “John Wayne” territory — accept responsibility, man-up, deal with it and move on!

Lately it seems the right-wingers are the snowflakes.

Feeling entitled, constantly whining, not accepting accountability, and so forth.

Of course Mr. Kappell deserves a second chance (we all do) — but, WHEC is not the place for the second chance (likely, neither is Rochester).

He was not executed — he was fired for messing up badly on live TV! 

Second chances do not have to take place in the same place (or the same relationship/company/city, etc.).

It’s like a romantic break-up: no one is saying, “Go die you hateful scum!” It is simply WHEC saying, “You messed up, humiliated us — move on!"

Now to the matter at hand:

This incident happened live, on-air (broadcast, not cable/subscription TV, etc), thus a community issue (old-school broadcast to all).

Since it was broadcast out to the entire community everyone has a right to discuss it, express their views, speculate, etc. 

I just think the speculation should be somewhat “educated” and not rash -- one way or the other.

Since we do not know what is in this man’s heart, unfortunately, we are left to speculate. It would help to know Mr. Kappell's "social milieu" — Does he have minority friends? What are his political leanings? Does he attend a church with a diverse population or with social ethics that defend vulnerable folks?

This may all seem a private matter — but it would help to know these things to assess Mr. Kappell in life-context, and specifically, as these parameters relate to his views on race/ethnicity, etc.

Often, when we cannot know what is in a person’s heart (and cannot give full weight to their own self-defense as it is self-serving) we must consider the incident at hand by other measures (for example, in law, aside from direct and circumstantial evidence, we look at “consciousness of guilt”.

What people are not considering here is that in this case WHEC’s ethical and corporate duties as a for-profit business and an organization that serves a wide community take precedence.

WHEC has no obligation to Mr. Kappell except those spelled out in his work contract (again, something many people don’t get) — and he broke that contract.

Consider the actual, indisputable incident: what occurred on air could not go unnoticed (we should all agree on that, I hope!).

So it follows: once noticed, it had to be addressed. It was certainly the kind of incident that stops you in your tracks: “What did he just say???!!! Did he actually say that — or did I mishear?"

The defense of Mr. Kappell (and his defenders): “Oh, it was a simple slip of the tongue!”

If it was a slip-of-the-tongue it was a NOT a simple one by any means: it was a HIGHLY unusual term to use -- and it asks a lot of us to consider it a coincidence.

I mean, come on! 

A very common American/English surname, that is also a noun (King) that happens to be the name of a major Civil Rights icon, and Mr. Kappell substitutes it with a very common, well-known, racist term???!!!

And, to boot, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is, in fact, referred to by this hateful moniker by racists! 

As the kids say: it’s a thing!

Keep in mind, as well, that not all "slips of the tongue" are simple mistakes; often, they reveal hidden attitudes and viewpoints (look up "Freudian slip” in the actual, clinical definition).

Again, I’m speculating (but this was a public incident and speculating is legitimate).

This could be a term Mr. Kappell has used before in private, perhaps it indicates how he thinks of MLK Park and its visitors, and it could be an unconscious belief that was accidentally revealed in an unguarded moment.

How do I know?

I don't.

How do you know otherwise?

And, more importantly, “brass tacks” reality and what most people do not get: this man has an obligation to his employer and colleagues — to not embarrass the corporation, to not damage the brand, to not attract controversy and potential litigation, etc.

Actually, Mr. Kappell has already damaged WHEC; he has created a huge mess for them — he has stirred up a hornet’s nest on both sides (not the role of a meteorologist, generally speaking) and he divided the community.

This is not a simple error — putting aside trying to read the man’s heart/mind, and looking at the facts: Mr. Kappell used a radioactive term while performing a very public job for a private employer that serves a diverse community; he did it during a live broadcast and while describing a park named after a beloved, martyred American hero, which is frequented by many minority folks (one of Mr. Kappell’s defenders suggested changing the name to Rochester City Park!).

Such disdain is, in fact, typical of racists and such a term is, in fact, used to describe Dr. King in private conversation. 

Again, not a simple slip of the tongue (so many excuses — another defender of Mr. Kappell’s now says he is known to have a lisp!).

If Mr. Kappell is in fact not a racist — not prejudiced, has a record of supporting minority communities (volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club, etc.) that is great (I would really like to know more about him).

But, again, on this one, he should apologize more fully, state his actual views of Dr. King, and accept responsibility and seek other employment elsewhere (he did this to some extent — but did a lot of “explaining away” rather than a genuine statement along the lines of: “I did say that, I was shocked myself, I don’t know if somehow it was in my consciousness, a residual of something I heard in childhood/adolescence, from friends saying it, etc. I am going to reflect on it, pray on it, and I am very sorry. I do understand how I placed my employers in a bind and they had no choice but to let me go.”

Mr. Kappell seemed “primed” to follow the words Martin Luther with the epithet — as if automatically, unconsciously going down a familiar road. Again, it could be a childhood memory, a fragment, something.

But, he remains on-point: just a slip (now he is urging people to say Dr. Martin Luther King over and over, implying we’d make the same error).

Nope, I am not buying the “simple slip” claim. 

Again — to emphasize: racists call MLK that very term: Martin Luther C—n.

Come on!

This is so clear.

So, firing Mr. Kappall is a job performance issue — not at all a "liberal media" attack.

After all, we do not live in a communist nation -- we live in a capitalist nation with private enterprise, business interests, for-profit interests, legally-binding work contracts, etc. (along with ethical obligations to the viewing public/community-as-a-whole).

I am not suggesting WHEC has only corporate interests in mind — but I am focusing here on the clear-cut private employment aspect, the human resources/job contract aspect.

Finally, as our nation continues in "regression mode," as a large swatch of our people are corrupted by the current president, as prejudice is on the ascendant, and as our American principles and norms are attacked and degraded by Trump — we are left with the general public, political and religious leaders, and even private corporations to stand up for what is right, what is ethical, what is AMERICAN.

WHEC did just that (intent is not an issue with something so flagrant as a live, on-air, racial slur — the audio alone suffices to take action).

I applaud WHEC’s actions and wish Mr. Kappell well in his future endeavors.

I hope he looks into his heart for any unconscious, psychological “residue” of prejudice (it was such an extremely WEIRD thing to say that Mr. Kappell, a person who publicly declares himself a Christian, goes by Christian principles, needs to accept that he “sinned” here on some level, needs to take  responsibility, needs to seek to calm his defenders’ needlessly provoked emotions, and needs to simply accept responsibility/accountability.

Mr. Kappell, you have stirred folks up enough — please do not divide this community further by creating a contentious campaign to defend you for words that came out of your mouth — and are indefensible.



Editor’s Note: 

MJ Vara is a regular contributor on The Davy V. Blog.

He has a Masters degree from SU and a New York State license, both in a counseling field, and over 25 years experience practicing psychotherapy. He wishes to make it clear his piece is speculative/metaphorical and in no way does he claim to know what is Mr. Kappell's actual racial attitudes/beliefs. However, in MJVara's view, everyone is "taking sides" on this issue without much depth of thinking and he wished to share his own thinking, based on his general knowledge.







Monday, September 10, 2018

Retired Rochester, NY Deputy Police Chief Annmarie Van Son Breaks Down The Blue Wall and The Code of Silence



Former Rochester, NY Deputy Police Chief Annmarie Van Son




By Annmarie Van Son



I am a City of Rochester, NY resident who happens to have worked for the Rochester Police Department, as a police officer for twenty-two years. 


I worked in patrol and was a supervisor, even deputy chief so I have some knowledge of the system, the rules, and procedures. It is from that perspective that I offer the following. 

 

Numerous people pontificate about how police across the nation conduct themselves, how they are held to account for their actions and how their communities react.   

 

Locally, the most recent incident to come under public scrutiny occurred on May 5, 2018 but didn’t come to the attention of the public at large until August 9, 2018, and was not acknowledged by Rochester, NY Mayor Lovely Warren or Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli until August 28


 Let’s examine this one incident as a microcosm of how these issues play out in Rochester, NY.

 

On May 5, two RPD Officers, Spenser McAvoy and Michael Sipple confronted Christopher Pate. They asked to see his identification because they thought he matched the description of a suspect. 


Initially, Mr. Pate refused their request.  Anyone walking the streets is free not to engage with the police. In the United States we are not required to carry identification (driving is an exception to this rule). We are free to go about our business without having to prove who we are. 

 

“Matching the description of a suspect” can be a legitimate reason to stop someone, it could have been in this case also, but with nothing else to raise the level of suspicion, the interaction should have ended with Mr. Pate’s initial refusal to cooperate.  


It did not, because these officers violated one of the first things they were told in the police academy: If you are not arresting someone or moving them out of harms way, do not touch them.  

 

It is that simple. Mr. Pate is a grown man. He knows how to walk. He was not fleeing the scene of a crime. He was not about to be injured because he was in the street. Hundreds of people, much to my personal annoyance, walk in the street. There was no probable cause to arrest him. The officers did not cease their engagement with him. 

 

I do not know these officers, but I know many officers and some have a hard time hearing and responding appropriately to a legitimate “No”. Although the oath officers take has them swearing to uphold the Constitution, some act as though they are required to win every argument and be triumphant in every encounter.  I do not know the specific motivation in this instance but we can all read about the results. 

 

Within the police department there is a process for what must follow when force is used on a person. The force used or the suspect’s physical resistance to the officer’s arrest efforts needs to be documented in writing, in photographs, and a supervisor (in this case a Sergeant or Lieutenant) is called to the scene. The paperwork produced by the officers is reviewed by their immediate supervisor and forwarded up the chain of command. 

 

Why am I boring you with these details? The two officers are not the only ones who have some responsibility in this incident. This incident represents a system-wide failure of the Rochester Police Department:


• What happened during the review of this incident?
 
• If the first line supervisor, the Sergeant noted errors, what was the follow up? 

• If the Sergeant didn’t see anything wrong did the Lieutenant?

• What about the Captain  and the Commander, who also have to sign off on this paperwork? 

• Did any of them recommend additional action be taken and where they ignored? 

• Did any of them view the video and compare it to the documents produced by the officers?

• Did each of them see nothing wrong? 

These are huge questions that are unanswered and worse than that, are unasked; at least publically

 

Officers are required to seek medical attention for anyone who they use force on. They did that. Officers are also required to be courteous. Mocking is not courteous. Putting medical personnel in the awkward position of having to tell Sergeants from Professional Standards Section (RPD’s version of internal affairs) that the officers were making fun of Mr. Pate is embarrassing and only adds insult to injury.

 

At his appearance in Rochester, NY City Court the lawyer from the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, the City Court Judge and the Monroe County Assistant District Attorney all would have seen Mr. Pate’s condition and been aware of the charges. Once so aware, their professional experience should have told them something was amiss. 


What if anything did they do? What should we, as a community expect them to do?

 

When all charges were dropped does the judge or the public defender or the DA’s office give any feedback to the police department? Did anyone in that massive bureaucracy report anything back to the Chief’s Office? 


I have heard from Public Defenders that they “see this type of thing all the time”. Does anyone other than Rev. Stewart do anything about it? In this community the answer is no. 

 

Dropped charges should be a red flag, a warning that something is wrong. It can be as innocuous as an officer or an investigator improperly completing paperwork or it can be something as serious as this incident. 


Instead there is little to no penalty or even scrutiny given to “dropped charges”. The cost of these “mistakes” is one we bear as a community both financially and in our faith in the system.

 

Returning to the Chief and the Mayor. They have decided that although they and all of Rochester City Council have seen the police body camera video, they will not release it to the public because it is “so disturbing and because of legal reasons”. Apparently, the wisdom of the citizens is in doubt. What we can imagine can be worse than the truth. 

 

Other jurisdictions immediately release police body camera videos because they are practicing transparency. Hiding behind “legal reasons” and “under investigation” are favorites of the RPD and the Mayor’s office. 


The Chief of Police has resigned. He has accepted responsibility, though he has not said as much. What about the Mayor? Does she accept any responsibility for this situation?


No she doesn’t. 


Even Bob Lonsberry, the most ardent police supporter cannot abide this situation.

 

Think for a moment how many contacts these two Rochester, NY Police Officers would have had with citizens between May 5th and August 28th. 


I dare to speculate if they worked during this time the number would be in the hundreds. What else did either of them do during this time? What were the risks and subsequent liabilities associated with them “doing their job” during that nearly four-month period of time. 

 

What will the Mayor’s office do when this lawsuit is settled? 


She will continue to be opaque; Mayor Warren will not release the terms of the settlement because it is for the good of the public that these terms remain a secret. 


The suit filed by Ricky Bryant was just settled and that was the excuse offered. Mayor Warren said that letting people know how much money Mr. Bryant was awarded could adversely impact future settlements. Indeed it would. 

 

What about the officers involved in the Ricky Bryant incident? Was there any discipline? No, wait, the RPD and the Mayor’s office can’t tell us because it is a “confidential personnel matter”.


 So why did they tell us about these two officers? It either is prohibited or it isn’t, this should not be a matter of convenience. 

 

Rather than being concerned with the impact of future negotiated settlements the Mayor Warren should be concerned about a system that fails the community.  


Instead as a community we have insisted upon body worn cameras and a police accountability board (PAB). The body worn cameras have not given the community the transparency it was seeking and neither will a PAB. 

 

Now community members are calling for the arrest of these officers. None of this will matter as long as we have a Mayor who thinks we all need another parent, a court system that looks the other way, line supervisors who ignore wrongdoing or are ignored, and upper level staff who do not engage with their subordinates enough to know what is going on. 

 

It will not matter if other adults in the room (DA’s office, PD’s office, judges and the media) continue to stick their collective heads in the sand.  


What about police supervisors, when are they held accountable? 


Never is the answer under the current system and as long as we are kept in the dark, we will continue to ask the wrong questions and not get answers to those that we do ask.  


This incident is shrouded in secrecy. 


Thank you Rev. Stewart for shining a light on this issue.  


Keep up the good work. 

 


Annmarie Van Son is retired from the Rochester, NY Police Department where she worked for twenty-two years, ascending to the rank of Deputy Police Chief.


The Davy V. Blog would like to thank Mrs. Van Son for being a guest essayist and for speaking out on police accountability and a broken system.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rochester, NY Mayor Lovely Warren, RPD Chief Ciminelli Refuse to Release Names of Cops Suspended in Brutality Case







UPDATED WEDNESDAY AUGUST 29, 2018 BY DAVY V. 


We now know the names of the two Rochester, NY Police Officers involved in the brutal beating of a black man in May.


Rochester, NY Police Officers Spenser McAvoy and Michael Sippel, have both been suspended without pay and may face criminal charges in the beating of Christopher Pate.


It’s important to note that Rochester, NY Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester, NY Police Chief Michael Ciminelli did not release the names of the RPD Officers.


Instead, the names were obtained from documents, including a notice of claim filed by Pate’s attorney.




Rochester, NY Police Officer Spenser McAvoy and his bride posing in front of a Rochester, NY Police cruiser.



In 2014, I wrote about Rochester, NY Police Officer Spenser McAvoy, after McAvoy used an official Rochester, NY Police cruiser at a photo shoot for his wedding.


Then, in 2016, I filmed Rochester, NY Police Officer Spenser McAvoy and several officers conducting a motor vehicle stop on Rochester’s northeast side.


Click link below to watch that video.


https://youtu.be/3XjSsQHXNwE


Rochester, NY Police have not yet released bodycam footage which shows two Rochester, NY Police Officers beating a black man, but a woman who was nearby recorded what appears to be the end of the arrest of Christopher Pate.


Read full story below and click link to watch video.


https://youtu.be/PFttV19zvLY





Rochester, NY Police Officer Spenser McAvoy




By Davy V. 



Two veteran Rochester, NY Police Officers who tasered and beat a black man so bad in a mistaken identity case, that they fractured his jaw and occipital, have been suspended without pay.


The victim, Christopher Pate, was stopped by the RPD Officers in May, while walking near Fulton Avenue and Bloss Street on Rochester’s northwest side.


The RPD Officers asked Pate for ID,  which he provided.


Pate says he was then grabbed by the RPD Officers, tasered, and beaten by at least one of the Officers who punched him repeatedly in the face, fracturing his occipital and jaw.


Pate was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.


The charges have since been dropped.


At a press conference Tuesday morning, Rochester, NY Mayor Lovely Warren and RPD Chief Michael Ciminelli announced the suspensions of both Rochester, NY Police Officers, but refused to identify them.




Rochester, NY Mayor Lovely Warren, RPD Chief Michael Ciminelli refuse to release names of Rochester, NY cops who beat man, fracturing his jaw and occipital.




Warren said the case has been referred to the Monroe County, NY District Attorney’s Office, who will decide if criminal charges will be brought against both Rochester, NY Police Officers. 


The announcement of the suspension of the two veteran Rochester, NY Police Officers comes just a couple of weeks after I posted videos on my YouTube channel DavyVTV, of two separate incidents in which Rochester, NY Police Officers are seen abusing their authority.


In one video, a Rochester, NY Police Officer is seen threatening to throw a festivalgoer in jail during Rochester’s annual Park Avenue Festival, simply because the man was dancing when he crossed in front of the RPD Officer’s cruiser.


In the video, the RPD Officer is heard repeatedly using profanities and humiliating the man until he apologizes.


At one point in the video the RPD Officer grabs the man’s hat off his head and throws it onto the RPD cruiser.


CLICK LINK BELOW TO WATCH VIDEO.


https://youtu.be/8cupa70zF8M


In the second video, Rochester, NY Police Officer William “Billy” Danno, a veteran K-9 Officer, handcuffs a father simply because he was videotaping his son being harassed by Danno.


CLICK LINK BELOW TO WATCH VIDEO.


https://youtu.be/zjQt5z_Lh0E