3-19-08 (Rochester, N.Y.) - Was there a rush to judgment?
13WHAM News has obtained an internal police department document into last year’s alleged anti-gay hate crime on South Goodman Street. It says there was no hate crime, and raises questions as to whether department leaders misled the public.
The RPD conducted two investigations into what happened on June 1, 2007. One was an internal affairs investigation into complaints of officer misconduct. The other was a criminal investigation that went to the grand jury.
13WHAM News obtained the incident report, which details the criminal investigation. The city did not want us to release this document, saying it was sealed by a judge in the grand jury proceeding.
The story shocked the community and set off protests, press conferences, and lawsuits.
Five people claimed they were victims of a hate crime, attacked while walking home from a bar, targeted because some members of their group are gay.
The alleged victims claim the officers who responded to the scene refused to help them and let the suspects go free. The alleged victims accuse the officers of using anti-gay slurs themselves. The alleged victims are suing the police department for violating their civil rights.
The incident report of the alleged hate crime paints a very different picture. The report is 48 pages long. Through interviews with 62 witnesses, investigators detail what they learned about the events that night.
The report says one of the alleged victims and their friend were actually the aggressors in two separate fist fights that started when someone yelled an anti-gay slur from a parked taxi cab.
Investigators say one alleged victim told them he "did not believe the other group knew that anyone in his group was gay."
Investigators say another alleged victim told them she "never heard any gay comments before, during, or after the fight."
A friend of the alleged victims told police he "was pretty much in shock that the fight was turned into a hate crime."
Investigators identified four people who fought with the alleged victims, but at no point did they consider those four people suspects.
Yet two weeks after the incident, Chief Moore announced the department was looking for four suspects, two men and two women.
The incident report says, "Per our criminal investigation, no suspects have been identified or interviewed by us thus far."
According to the incident report, three of the alleged victims refused to talk to the investigators and none of them would help identify photos of the four people.
Sources tell us the narrative of the report went to the grand jury in October, which returned no charges against anyone. Even though the report is dated October 20, after the grand jury's decision, sources tell us the narrative of the report was considered by the grand jury.
"You can tell by the investigation they were only trying to seek the truth," said Rochester police Locust Club Vice President Mike Mazzeo. "There was no crime committed that night. These allegations are false and it's been a disservice to the community. It's one we have to try to recover from."
Mazzeo said the department’s top brass immediately believed the victims and not the officers. The police chief has never publicly acknowledged the contents of incident report, which calls into question the credibility of the alleged victims.
The police chief has publicly said several officers violated departmental procedures. The chief has never said what the officers did wrong, citing civil service laws requiring confidentiality on personnel matters.
Mazzeo said four officers have been suspended since October. He says the officers have been brought up on departmental charges that are procedural, such as not writing a report on the incident. Mazzeo said the charges do not indicate the officers said anti-gay slurs.
The incident report takes the Professional Standards Section to task for interfering with the criminal investigation. P.S.S., also known as internal affairs, investigates officer conduct.
The incident report said P.S.S. delayed the criminal investigation, talked to alleged victims and witnesses first, and did not turn over vital information about the case in a timely manner, if at all.
The attorney for the alleged victims, would not comment on what she called a confidential document.
City spokesman Gary Walker said there would be criminal and internal investigations into who leaked the document to 13WHAM News.
“The document is misleading,” Walker said. “It’s not the full story.”
The police department issued a statement for our story:
"The Rochester Police Department condemns the release of these records. These records have been sealed pursuant to Section 160.50 of the Criminal Procedure Law and their release and publication without a court order is contrary to law. These records constitute only a small part of the information collected by the Rochester Police Department with respect to this incident. The Grand Jury has resolved all criminal matters relating to this incident based on a presentation of all evidence by the District Attorney. A full and separate internal investigation has also been conducted. Any conclusions that may be reached by review of only a small amount of materials is unfair to all persons involved in the incident and to the community as a whole. In light of the sealing of records by the court, the Department will have no comment upon any specific information contained in the records."