Ithaca mayor wants to avoid Ferguson-like situation

By Amy Khuu

August 15, 2014 Updated Aug 15, 2014 at 11:46 PM EDT

Ithaca, NY (WBNG Binghamton) An internal review is underway for an incident involving a plain-clothes Ithaca sergeant, who is white, after he drew his gun on a group of black teens.

On the night of Aug. 9, Ithaca police responded to two car fires, both ruled as arson in the 400 block of North Albany Street and 400 block of North Geneva, respectively.

Shortly after that, deputies were diverted from the arson investigation to a report of a residential burglary in the 400 block of North Cayuga Street, where eventually the suspect was apprehended.

All three crimes took place during a 40-minute time span, according to a department news release. Patrol officers then observed a group of people riding bicycles in the area where the arson incidents had taken place.

The shift commander requested officers to stop these people for the purpose of ascertaining their identity, and to ask if they had any information related to the recent criminal activity.

That's when a plain-clothed sergeant, operating his personal vehicle, was on his way to help investigate the vehicle fire, and saw four people on Etsy Street. The sergeant continued to follow the group until marked patrol cars arrived.

When the marked patrol cars arrived with their emergency lights on, the group fled the area on their bikes. They got off their bikes and ran on foot toward the intersection of Cleveland Avenue, where the sergeant spotted them and gave clear verbal commands to stop.

The group failed to stop and continued to run away.

The plain-clothed sergeant exited his car, and that's when the group of people turned around and began approaching the sergeant. According to Ithaca Police press release, the sergeant did not know the intent or the identity of the group of people and removed his gun from his holster, and pointed the gun in a safe direction, as he gave verbal commands to the group to lie on the ground.

Other officers arrived on scene and identified the teens to be 15 years old. The teens were immediately tuned over to the custody of their parents and have not been charged with a crime.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick mentioned the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen on Saturday.

"As a black man, I'm well aware of the history of violence between the police and young men of color," Myrick said. "... and motivated to ensure that this pattern does not play out in our city."

Myrick said an internal investigation has been launched by the police department and the city's Community Police Board.

Myrick also met with parents of the teen and members of the police and city administration. He said the meeting was "positive and productive."

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