POUGHKEEPSIE – One of two teenage sisters who were arrested in March of 2019 in an incident that led to community unrest and brought charges of police brutality, will be in the clear as long as she continues to keep her nose clean for six months. That adjournment in contemplation of dismissal came after an hours’-long court session in Poughkeepsie on Wednesday.
The sisters, 16-years-old Jamelia Barrett, and her 13-year-old sibling, were involved in a large disturbance after school a year ago. When police arrived and attempted to break-up the melee, the two sisters allegedly jumped on the back of officers, resulting in one of them being restrained in accordance with police procedures. The takedown of the one girl was caught on a 17-second video that immediately made its way to social media.
A police investigation resulted in the girls being charged with obstructing government administration and the younger girl was also charged with resisting arrest. The family hired attorney William Wagstaff of Westchester to represent the girls in the criminal proceedings as well as in the preparation for a federal lawsuit claiming that two City of Poughkeepsie officers violated the civil rights of the girls.
The obstruction case was set to be heard in Dutchess County Family Court in front of Judge Tracy MacKenzie. While motions were filed by both sides, the juveniles were placed on probation. On Wednesday, the case was set for trial. The Dutchess County Attorney’s Office, represented by Victor Civitillo, was presenting the case and seeking convictions. Wagstaff had made several motions asking for a dismissal in the interest of justice. The motions had been previously denied by the judge.
At the start of the trial on Wednesday, Wagstaff notified the judge that the county attorney’s office had failed to follow the rules of discovery in that Civitillo emailed him a notice on Monday evening at 6:08 p.m. to advise him that a second video had, in fact, been discovered by Poughkeepsie Detective Chris Libolt, the lead investigator.
Wagstaff said that the late notice of the potential evidence was proof that the county was acting in bad faith in an attempt to harm his clients. “I was completely blindsided 48 hours before court,” said Wagstaff.
Judge MacKenzie was noticeably upset with the county’s withholding of evidence. “What explanation is there from law enforcement?” MacKenzie demanded of the county representative.
Civitillo argued that it was a mistake in not providing the video sooner but indicated that it would not impact the case. MacKenzie disagreed and ordered court into recess until Detective Libolt could be produced in court.
The detective arrived after 11 a.m. and court was brought back into session so that Libolt could be questioned on the stand from both the judge and Wagstaff. Libolt admitted that the second video had been sent to him by a witness in March of last year and had been overlooked. “I pride myself on my work,” said Libolt as he gave his explanation. The veteran detective indicated that he learned of the video when he was reading through his notes and found a memo indicating that a witness was going to email him a video via cell phone. “I apologize to the court and everyone here – this was a human mistake. It’s not malicious,” said Libolt.
After the testimony, MacKenzie called for a five-minute recess to evaluate the testimony and weigh her options.
When court returned, MacKenzie dissected the detective’s testimony, noting that he had received the video in March of 2019 but did not turn it over to the Civitillo until this past Monday. Civitillo had then sent it to the attorney for the juveniles. MacKenzie chastised Libolt, calling his actions “careless and unprofessional,” but noted that they did not meet the threshold to have the charges dismissed, and she declined the motion.
The judge then went on to tout the accomplishments of Barrett since the incident, citing her high grades in school, and satisfactory reports from the probation officers, as well as a letter in support written by Ralph Coates of Upward Bound.
“Given the evidence, I find it appropriate to grant an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” said MacKenzie. Provided Ms. Barrett stays out of trouble for six months, the charges will be dropped, according to the ruling.
Another motion was made for dismissal by Wagstaff on behalf of his younger client. The motion was denied because the younger sibling “does not have the same blemish-free history” as her sister, said the judge. The 13-year-old is scheduled for trial later this month. Wagstaff added after court that he was pleased with the ACD for Barrett. “She’s been doing everything she needs to do by the standards of the court,” and the decision was proper.