SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — When a fleeing Charles Walton's escape was blocked by a police cruiser, he tried to jump the car, landed on the windshield and rolled to the other side.
It was late afternoon on Sept. 26, 2011, and Walton, 19, was soon involved in a struggle with two officers, which ended when he was stunned by a Taser.
"Suspect refused to comply w/ officers commands," a report on the incident reads, "and was actively fighting w/ officers. Subject was drive stunned in the right leg to gain compliance.
"Subject complied," the section continues, "after being drive stunned with the Taser."
The account of the incident was included in a stack of 342 Schenectady Police Department reports documenting city officer's use of force and requested by The Gazette. The period covered was four months: August and September of 2009 and 2011.
The Gazette chose the months because they included two of the department's most recent uses of deadly force — the Aug. 1, 2009, fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man and the Aug. 11, 2011, fatal shooting of a man officers said threatened them with a gun.
The Gazette reviewed each report, tallying the number of times officers reported various levels of force being used against subjects, ranging from low-level force of "resistive handcuffing" to higher levels — pointed firearms and Taser use. The numbers offer a snapshot of how officers report their use of force.
The reports were released to the newspaper as a result of a Freedom of Information Law request. Officers' names, as well as the name of the suspect force was used upon, were redacted by the city corporation counsel's office, along with the date, time and full address of the suspect.
From the information left, though, the newspaper could reconstruct which reports belonged together in the same incident and even conclude, in most cases, the number of individuals on whom force was used in an incident.
In some cases, like Walton's, the suspect's name could even be restored through Gazette archive searches and court records.
With that analysis, the number of force reports generated year-to-year were relatively stable.
In August and September 2009, a total of 167 reports were generated from 78 separate incidents, according to the analysis. Officers used force on 90 separate individuals.
Over that same time period, the department received more than 17,000 total calls for service, according to department numbers. A "call" is a request for service that results in an incident number being assigned. They include reports taken at the station, routine area checks and calls for crimes in progress.
In the 2011 time period, 175 reports were generated from 79 incidents, with force used on 92 individuals. Those reports resulted from fewer total calls, more than 14,400 over the two months.
Each form consists of a multiple-choice system, including the nature of the contact, the force used and reasons force was used. Each report also includes a short narrative from the officer explaining why the force was used.
The Gazette broke down the force used, tallying each category. The lowest level of reportable force, resistive handcuffing, was the most often checked, reported on 49 individuals in the 2009 period and 56 in the 2011 period.
At the other end of the spectrum, officers pointed their service weapons at 21 individuals in the 2009 period and 14 in 2011.
Tasers, which were not in use during the 2009 time period, were involved in five total incidents in the 2011 period. Two suspects, one being Walton, were stunned with a Taser. Use of a Taser was threatened in another incident, a Taser was used against attacking dogs in a fourth and accidentally discharged at the station in the fifth. Officers are required to test the devices at a cork board before shifts, police said.
Also, in August and September 2011, only about 20 officers were trained on and had Tasers available. All officers have since been trained and carry the devices.
In Walton's case, four separate officers completed use of force reports. A separate report also outlined how and why the Taser was used and any injuries suffered.
Walton received medical treatment from paramedics and at Ellis Hospital, the Taser report reads. Injuries, however, were described as abrasions to his right arm, with none other observed.
Three of the four officers reported using "resistant handcuffing" on Walton. All four also circled "other." The officers then described what other force was used. One used a "bent arm takedown," another reported a "headlock takedown," a third a knee to Walton's back to take him into custody.
The fourth reported the Taser use under "other." The main form does not include a separate choice for Taser.
In each of the four months reviewed, the "other" category is the second-most checked line. The officer filling out the form then gives the brief description of the "other" force used, including holding a suspect's legs or head, grabbing his wrist, a tackle or even physically separating parties.
Being able to review the information publicly is important, according to Melanie Trimble, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union's Capital Region chapter.
"It's nice to keep track of," Trimble said. "It's good to know that they are putting these out there to look at and that we do have access to individual complaints."
The department's use of force form policy followed a high-profile lawsuit by the NYCLU after its FOIL request for force reports was stymied because no such forms existed. Instead, the information at that time was tucked into a mountain of standard incident reports.
The forms, used since 2006, also came three years after a U.S. Justice Department letter -- resulting from an overall investigation into the department -- recommended revamping a vague policy on use of force.
Officers are now required to fill out a form for every incident in which they use force. The forms are reviewed by a supervisor and then by others in the department. If a complaint surfaces, they can be re-examined.
Assistant Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said the forms are reviewed by the officer's supervisor and then are sent up the chain of command. Police Chief Mark Chaires also views them all, Kilcullen said. Any supervisor can seek further inquiry into an incident.
The forms are a reminder to officers that they must be able to explain how and why they use force.
"They provide a heightened sense of awareness for officers," Kilcullen said. "Whenever force is used, it's in the back of their mind that they've got to be able to articulate the reason for the force."
Officers have been disciplined if the forms are not filled out. In 2008, three officers were even charged criminally for failing to fill out the forms related to a disputed December 2007 arrest. While the criminal charges were ultimately dropped, two of the officers were later fired or resigned after it was determined they used force that was excessive and unnecessary.
At the end of each use of force report are boxes for "proper" and "improper." Of the 342 reports reviewed, the "improper" box was checked only once. In that case, a Gazette inquiry resulted in a response that the check was a typo. The force used in that case was actually proper, the police said.
1 shooting not released
At least three use of force reports were withheld from The Gazette, including reports from the Aug. 11, 2011, fatal shooting of Luis Rivera on Grove Place.
In that case, three officers fired 14 shots at Rivera, who the officers said was threatening them with a gun. Police have said the use of force in that case appeared proper, but the case continues to be reviewed by the Schenectady County District Attorney's Office.
Any use of force reports filed in the case weren't released, police said, because the investigation is ongoing.
The local chapter of the NAACP has criticized the police for not releasing more information about the Rivera shooting. The group has also questioned the number of shots fired and said it's heard from witnesses who give a different account of what happened.
The group has also called for better police training regarding the use of deadly physical force.
The Rev. Ted Ward, president of the local NAACP chapter, viewed The Gazette's numbers. He said he wanted to know more, including where the calls originated and more about the individuals on whom force was used.
In the fatal August 1, 2009, shooting of James Tomlin, who was threatening police with a knife, the district attorney's office determined that the use of deadly force was appropriate.
One piece of information that was available on the forms was race. The forms include a box for officers to check either white, black, Hispanic or other.
Of the 90 individuals subjected to police force in August and September 2009, 29, or 32.2 percent, were listed as white; 43, or 47.8 percent, were black; nine, or 10 percent, were Hispanic; and four were Guyanese. Four others were reported as being of mixed race. There was also force reported to disperse a group.
Over the same period in 2011, with Rivera included, 27 of the 93 individuals subjected to police force, or 29 percent, were listed as white; 50, or 53.7 percent,were black; 11 — including Rivera — were Hispanic; and four were Guyanese. One report did not detail the suspect's race.
Given those numbers, Ward called the numbers a "monstrosity," highlighting the white number versus the combined total of black, Hispanic and Guyanese.
"These numbers are staggering, obnoxious and extremely heartbreaking," Ward wrote in an email .
Police Chief Chaires, though, cautioned against reading into the numbers without viewing individual cases.
The department keeps statistics on arrests by race. Those numbers are also available, but couldn't be obtained Friday.
Chaires said each case is looked at by multiple supervisors, and any complaint is investigated fully. Chaires, who is black, also noted the department's recent history shows any improper conduct by officers using force is taken seriously. Any such conduct based on race, Chaires said, "we take a zero-tolerance approach on that."
There are also multiple avenues for an individual who believes force was used inappropriately to contact the department, Chaires said.
The city Civilian Police Review Board also weighs in on any misconduct cases. Though a different time period, Emy Murphy, board chairwoman, said Friday afternoon that she recalled that since Sept. 1, the board has reviewed about two cases that included allegations of excessive force, though she didn't have specific numbers. On both occasions, she recalled, the board agreed with the department's findings.
The department's use of force policy also dictates that whenever officers can, they should use their verbal skills, rather than force. The entire patrol force recently went for a round of "verbal judo" training that teaches just that, Chaires said.
At the same time, Chaires said, if there are ways to improve, the department is open to the suggestions.
Regarding the Rivera shooting, Ward again called for the release of more information.
The same month as the Rivera shooting, though, officers reported pointing their service weapons in eight other instances, against eight individuals.
In one case, 10 days after Rivera was killed, one officer reported pointing his pistol at an individual; The Gazette determined him to be Devonate Batson. The officer responded to a report of a break-in in progress on Porter Street. The officer saw two men, one halfway inside the window of the residence.
"I was unable to see the male's hands," the officer wrote in the report. "I drew my weapon and ordered both males to stop. One male fled the scene. The male in the window slowly withdrew himself from the window. I holstered my weapon and took the subject into custody."
In another August case, an officer investigating a domestic argument with a knife involved at an address on Liberty Street reported encountering a man who pulled a knife from his pocket.
"He stated he had a knife and produced said knife in his hands," the officer wrote, "and rapidly approached me. I drew my pistol and pointed it at him and told him to drop the knife. He complied."
Two individuals had guns drawn on them in another incident, a drug raid on Hattie Street. In that case, one report was generated when the department's Special Investigations Unit raided the home with guns drawn "and secured all stated occupants of address without incident."
Of the four months of reports reviewed, September 2009 had the highest number of reports of officers pointing their guns at individuals. For that month, there were 25 such reports, with 19 separate suspects targeted.
In two other reports, related to the same case, officers checked "other" for unholstering their weapons and holding them in a "low ready" position where a man suspected of having a gun was slow to show his hands.
Of the 25 reports of pointing firearms that month, five, representing six individuals, involved reports of suspects with guns. Four, representing four individuals, resulted from the same drug raid. Fourteen reports, representing eight individuals, resulted from officers unable to see the suspect's hands during either chases or searches. There were two reports, representing one individual, of a suspect believed to have a knife leaving a stabbing scene.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122 or firstname.lastname@example.org