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2 March 1999

Mayor Bernardi,

I'm writing to let you know about a bad experience I recently had with the City Police. I've read about this and seen it on TV, but never thought I would personally experience what a lot of people call "police brutality."

Mayor, before I describe what happened, let me give you my personal background. I was born and raised in Lyons, New York. My parents were Italian immigrants. I graduated from the Air Force Academy and was an instructor pilot. Later I was an operations officer. I've lived in the Syracuse area since 1984, and most recently was a lector at St. Stephen's parish in Phoenix. I've done volunteer work at the Oxford Inn here in Syracuse.

I am involved in a parent's right movement. At times our approach uses non-violent Civil Disobedience. Right now I am writing you from a cell block in the Justice Center. I am trying to encourage legislators, who ignored earlier requests, to do a serious investigation about how the family law system works. My goal is to stay in jail until getting some type of acknowledgement from them, i.e. "Mr. Murtari, we will/won't investigate." I've written, and members of the group have written to Assemblyman Bragman, Congressman Walsh, and Governor Pataki.

I was originally arrested on the 19th by Sheriff's deputies when I refused to leave their Salina substation. It was covered in the paper last Saturday. While the deputies did not agree with what I was doing and tried to talk me out of it, there was no yelling, threats, or physical abuse. I have now spent over a week in the Justice Center and have uniformly been impressed by the restraint and discipline showed by them in some difficult situations. Last Wednesday, the 29th, I was released, but wanted to remain in jail. The deputies told me to try the Public Safety Building.

I walked in around 10 p.m., explained to the desk clerk that I was protesting and that I wanted to be arrested for trespass or whatever was easy. Two officers were primarily involved with the abuse/arrest which followed. One was older (40's), one young (20's). I also made it very clear that this was not a protest about the police and that I well respected them and the job they did. To which they yelled back, "We DO NOT RESPECT YOU." They yelled this at me several times through the events which followed. They grabbed me and pushed me out of the building. I never resisted any of their physical conduct and always kept my hands down at my side. I never raised my voice.

After pushing me out the front door they told me I had better just leave. I told them I couldn't do that and would go back in the building. They became quite angry, started pushing me out to the street. I felt repeated quick blows on my back. They were both behind me. The older was yelling, "Where is your car parked? Where do you live?" I told him I was from Lyons and a friend had dropped me of. By this time we were out at the street in front of the building. I had heard my shirt rip, and later found out I lost two buttons. The shirt was beneath my jacket. The older officer told me I was on public property now. He told me I should, "stay the fuck away!" Again I told them I would return to the building and that I wanted to be arrested. They yelled that I shouldn't do that here, that I should protest with the Judges at the Courthouse. Again the pushing and hitting started, one was usually behind me, the other near my side. They pushed me across State Street toward the Court. I was told that if I didn't leave they would write the arrest report up so it sounded like I was acting crazy and they would, "put you away for a psych-eval." They also mentioned something called a C-PEP. I told them I didn't think that was right, but I still wanted to be arrested.

By this time we approached the other side of the street and I saw a police car pull up and the officer got out and watched for a while. The other officers again told me to stay away, not come back, protest somewhere else. It was almost all yelling. During this time the officer from the car asked what was going on. The other officers told him I was protesting and wanted to be arrested. The officer from the car continued to watch.

When I told them I would still go back, the two officers then pushed me against the Court House wall. Applying a lot of basic pressure and with my face close to the wall, the older officer yelled, "Look, this is where you need to protest. Got that!" At that time I really thought I might get my head bounced against the concrete.

They then briefly let up. I was asked to turn around and they moved in front of me. Again they told me not to follow them back. I started to move away from them to walk to the Public Safety Building another way. They moved in front of me, they were chest-to-chest and again, threatening. The older officer then told me he was going to start walking back to the building (he called it his domicile), and if I followed him he would consider that threatening and be authorized to defend himself. He started to turn away and I told him I was going to go back. He spun back and hit me in the chest, and again got face-to-face. He said, "Look, if you keep this up you will be going to jail via the hospital." I told him I didn't want that to happen. Again, at that moment I was afraid I was going to get a hand to the face or slammed to the pavement.

A few seconds later the officer who had arrived in the car seemed to take charge. He called me over to his car and told me to empty my pockets. The younger and older officer, who had pushed me over from the Public Safety Building, then put hand cuffs on me, walked me back to the building, and did the arrest. Those same two officers escorted me over to ‘Booking’ at the Justice Center. They seemed to calm down. The younger officer was polite while he was writing up the arrest report, and the older officer was civil as we walked over.

As I was finishing up in Booking I told the older officer, "You guys were a little rough, weren't you." He did not seem to have any regrets and told me, "That’s how it is."

Mayor, is that how it is in Syracuse? Those two officers are still on duty, and I'm afraid that attitude is still on duty. What if I'd been a poorly dressed black man? As a former military training officer, I can assure you the chest-to-chest yelling attitude is used to intimidate and provoke. Almost any other person would have raised their hands and perhaps pushed away at this threatening officer. You can just imagine what their response would have been.

I will be filing a complaint against the officers. But more importantly than that, I hope strong, public, administrative action will be taken by both you and the Police chief. Those two officers and others need to understand that type of conduct toward a non-violent protestor is not "the way it is."

I would have sent a copy of this letter to the Police Chief (but their isn't a copier on the cell block). I hope your staff will forward him a copy.

Mayor, I also want to bring to your attention that I will appear in front of Judge DeJoseph on March 11th. I would like to see this go to trial and those two officers called to the witness stand. I do not want to see the charges against me dropped and the whole matter swept under the rug. I hope you can have some influence with the DA, that the people of Syracuse have an interest in a speedy and public trial.

Personally, I want you to know that I have followed your career with some interest on your way from City Auditor to Mayor. I admire your pursuit of truth, and your persistence and faith to keep trying—Congratulations on all you have achieved. I hope you can understand my struggle as a disenfranchised parent. What else do we have but family?

Warmest regards,

John Murtari