POUGHKEEPSIE – Hours after holding a news conference in front of the federal court in White Plains, Melissa Johnson stood with her daughters and attorney William Wagstaff III to explain the civil rights lawsuit being brought against the city and two of its police officers.
A group of approximately 50 people sat in the Smith Metropolitan AME Zion Church to listen to Wagstaff, Johnson, and her two daughters who claim police brutality after being arrested after a March 11, 2019 disturbance that was partially caught on cell phone video. The short video clip alleges to show one of Johnson’s daughters being slammed to the ground with “enough force to dislocate her shoulder” after seeing her younger sister “slammed to the ground” by a police officer, according to Wagstaff. The attorney also claims that his client, who was 15 at the time, lost consciousness.
The lawsuit claims that the civil rights of both girls were violated by the two police officers, including false arrest and excessive force. During the Monday evening meeting, which included Democratic candidate Joseph Ruggiero, County Legislators Giancarlo Llaverias and Barbara Jeter-Jackson, along with Sarah Salem of Poughkeepsie’s common council, attendees heard from the two young women who claim to have been traumatized by the events of that day and the subsequent arrests and prosecution.
Attorney Wagstaff laid out the basics of the lawsuit which he said will be served on the defendants by next week. Wagstaff also used the pulpit to encourage people to “get out and vote.” The meeting included a question and answer session with Wagstaff providing answers.
When the issue of police body cameras came up, Councilmember Sarah Salem interjected that the police would be wearing cameras soon but added “I’m not happy with the policy provided,” which was drawn up by Police Chief Tom Pape with the assistance of experts in the field of body-worn cameras.
Longtime community activist Mae Parker-Harris was in attendance and noted that she marched with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963 and still has to carry signs with the same message as she did so many years ago. Parker-Harris did her part to encourage people to vote by saying “Wake up and come together.” Ruggiero indicated that he was there to obtain information. “I came here to learn,” said Ruggiero as he asked Wagstaff if there were plans to involve the New York State Attorney General. “The City of Poughkeepsie can’t investigate itself in matters like this,” said Ruggiero. Wagstaff said “It’s an option,” regarding the attorney general. The attorney noted that his first order of business is to take care of the criminal charges pending in family court before Judge Mackenzie and then addressing the civil rights violations. Of the criminal charges, Wagstaff insists that County Executive Marcus Molinaro could have stopped the county attorney from prosecuting his clients.
In one last effort to encourage people to vote for change, Wagstaff said “The mayor is in control of the police department and the county executive is on control of the county attorney who prosecutes juvenile delinquency cases – so if you feel that either should have done more for these girls, then you can make your voice heard by going to the polls and voting. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired and they need to come out and vote and show that they are tired by making different decisions when they go to the ballot box.”