Law enforcement officials are trying to reassure communities in the Twin Counties following the death of an unarmed African-American man in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed.
Hudson Police Commissioner Peter Volkmann issued a statement Thursday calling the death of George Floyd, 46, in Minnesota, “shocking to say the least.”
In a video recorded by a bystander, an officer appears to pin Floyd’s neck under his knee for several minutes as Floyd pleads, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd later died.
Officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers were fired Tuesday. Chauvin was arrested Friday afternoon and faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, police said.
The incident was recorded by a bystander and has led to protests and violence, including the burning of the Minneapolis Third Precinct police station late Thursday night. Protests have also taken place in several other U.S. cities and are planned this weekend, including Newark, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina.
The technique used to restrain Floyd would be unacceptable in Hudson and is not a part of Hudson police training, Volkmann said.
“The arrest tactics utilized in Minneapolis have never and will never be an aspect of Hudson police training nor tolerated if utilized as an arrest tactic by any officer,” he said. “Hudson Police have been trained and will continue to be trained on proper use-of-force techniques.”
The Hudson Police Department follows the standards of care and practices that are acceptable in New York state, and is looking at ways to improve the department, Volkmann said.
“We are reevaluating our community policing per the direction of the mayor and reevaluating to make us better,” Volkmann said. “We all need to take responsibility and look to make Hudson better. We can all strive for that.”
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson said Floyd’s death was tragic and provided an impetus to shore up relations between the police department and the community.
“Like most people, I was deeply saddened by this tragedy,” Johnson said. “It just gave us a push to increase and better our own leadership and work with the community and our police to improve relationships.”
“I had a lot of anger and frustration, but also it gave me a drive to do more and that is one of the reasons I wanted to be mayor of this city — to help bolster the police and community relations,” Johnson said. “I think our officers do a great job, but with any job there comes more training and more community engagement.”
Catskill Police Chief David Darling said an investigation will reveal more details about what happened in Minneapolis, but that police are trained to use only as much force as is necessary.
“Our use of force cannot exceed the use of force by the person who is being detained,” Darling said. “You are only supposed to use the necessary force — if you don’t need to use any force, that is always the best way.”
The investigation into Floyd’s death should be done by an outside, independent agency, Darling said.
“You can only use the amount of force needed to restrain them. That is what the investigation in Minneapolis will try to determine — did they use excessive force or didn’t they?” Darling said. “Based on the video it is hard to determine. Based on the video, it didn’t look like he was resisting, but it is difficult to determine.”
Several law enforcement officials in the Twin Counties have been highly critical of the actions taken by the officers in Minneapolis.
“No real cop agrees or condones that type of behavior,” Hudson Police Chief L. Edward Moore said Friday. “Police need to be held to the highest standards and punishment in this case should be quick and decisive. This act only serves to discredit hard working, brave and honest police officers. I’ll bet this person wearing a uniform in Minneapolis gave plenty of prior indications that he was not fit to wear the badge.”
Coxsackie Police Chief Sam Mento said the police actions seen on the video go against the training police officers undergo in New York state.
“It is extremely disturbing and difficult to watch,” Mento said of the video. “It is contrary to everything we are taught in the police academy. I see so many things wrong and I have so many questions — I don’t understand why there is a subject who is handcuffed and they are placing him in the vehicle, which is protocol, and the next thing I see is an officer pressing his knee into his neck. In the police academy we learn to always be aware that the subject has a patent airway and that they are able to breathe. Traditionally, once the handcuffs are on, the struggle ends. I don’t know how he wound up on the ground with an officer’s knee on his neck.”
Typically, in the heat of the moment, when an officer gets carried away, another officer will tap them on the shoulder and take over. But that didn’t happen here, Mento said.
“I can understand why people are outraged over this,” he said. “It is appalling and disturbing, and it gives police officers a bad name.”
Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said an investigation will be done to determine whether the officers in Minnesota acted within the confines of the law. But he expressed confidence in law enforcement officers in Columbia County.
“We have a great group of police officers who do their job every day. They are out on the streets and obeying the laws and working hard,” Bartlett said. “It is a shame, whatever happened, and I am sure the Minnesota authorities will deal with it within their guidelines. It’s not my place to make a decision. I don’t know if these are good cops or bad cops — they have to do an investigation, and I am sure they will do that.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the issue during his daily coronavirus briefing Friday afternoon. Cuomo recited a long list of similar incidents of African-Americans dying in confrontations with police — several of them in New York state — and said it is not an isolated incident.
“It’s not about one situation — it’s about the same situation happening again and again and again,” Cuomo said. “It’s a continuing injustice.”
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.