Ex-Judge Arrest Video Goes Viral; Police Chief Responds
Former DA Mike Ryan’s release of a police video, showing his recent arrest for A&B on a police officer, dominates area media coverage on Monday. Police chief defends his refusal to give video to reporters. ACLU lawyer says police search of Ryan’s wallet appears intrusive.
On Sunday, Ryan released the police cruiser video of his arrest Oct. 15, when he was charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery on a police officer. The arrest took place in the parking lot behind the Hampshire County Hall of Records off King Street about 8:44 p.m., as he and his law partner were attempting to change a flat tire.
Ryan gave the video, the unexpurgated police report and a written statement to Northampton Media, which on Sunday published a story, “Judge Ryan Arrest Video Aired,” which featured the video. We also put the video up on our YouTube channel, posted it to social media networks, and sent links to local and regional news organizations.
Prior to that, the video was unavailable to the public. For three weeks, media requests for the video were turned down by Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz, although copies of the redacted police report were made available and publicized. At least one media outlet had appealed the chief’s decision in superior court.
Area News Outlets Pick Up on the Ryan Arrest Video
Once Ryan’s videotaped arrest was aired, it didn’t take long for the video to go viral. By early Tuesday, YouTube videos of the arrest posted by Northampton Media had logged more than 7,000 viewings.
The video’s release and publication was also the lead story Monday on all three local TV stations, CBS-3, ABC-40/FOX-6, and WWLP-22. In their reports, Channels 3 and 40 sent reporters to Northampton, where they interviewed Northampton Media staff as part of their story. Channel 3 also interviewed some people on Main Street for their reaction to the video.
Ryan’s release of the video was the featured story on MassLive.com, the website for the Springfield Republican, where it racked up more comments than the next eight stories combined. It was also the top story on the website for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, a local newspaper.
The arrest had been highly publicized from the get-go; after all, Ryan, 64, had served as the Northwestern District Attorney from 1983 to 1988, and as a Northampton District Court judge from 1990 to 2008. He is also the son of the late Luke F. Ryan, the city’s former mayor and also a district court judge.
In a written statement released to Northampton Media, Ryan predicted he would be vindicated of the charges in court. But he said that public opinion had been based solely on the police reports, which he said did not represent the complete story. In those reports, officers stated that Ryan and his law partner were intoxicated, and they described Ryan as combative and uncooperative.
“While I must wait for another day to defend myself,” Ryan wrote, “I am today releasing a video of my arrest recorded by the Northampton Police so the public can have an impartial view of what transpired and determine for themselves the accuracy of the written reports and the credibility of the charges pending against me.”
Since issuing his written statement, Ryan has refused to give interviews on advice of his attorney.
What the Police Cruiser Video Shows
The video shows Patrol Officer Andrew Kohl talking with Ryan; Ryan trying to walk away and then returning; Ryan placing his hands on the trunk of his law partner’s car; and Kohl reaching twice into Ryan’s pants pocket. According to the police reports and video, and from statements by Ryan and his lawyer, Aaron Wilson of Holyoke, the following occurred: Kohl removed Ryan’s wallet; Ryan turned towards Kohl and asked for his wallet back, saying the officer had no right to go through it; Ryan unsuccessfully tried to snatch the wallet from Officer Kohl’s hand, striking the officer’s wrist in the process.
Immediately following, the video shows some movements by both Ryan and Kohl, followed quickly by Kohl pushing Ryan back and slamming him onto the car’s trunk, with a second police officer rushing to help in handcuffing Ryan. The former judge was then seen being led off camera, where he was later taken to the police station and booked.
Ryan and Wilson dispute events as described in the police reports, which state that Ryan raised his hand in a threatening manner towards Kohl. Both Ryan and Wilson acknowledge that Ryan had refused to answer many of Kohl’s questions; but they said the officer exceeded his authority by taking Ryan’s wallet and looking through it to identify the former judge, whom Kohl said he did not know.
Reaction to the video’s release, as judged on various on-line forums, has been mixed, with some commenters saying Ryan deserved to be arrested and others criticizing the police officer’s response as an overreaction.
Police Chief Sienkiewicz Reacts to Our Story
One person who was not happy with our article, and the way it portrayed the police department’s withholding of the cruiser video, was Northampton Police Chief Sienkiewicz.
Asked for his reaction to the video’s release and to our Sunday story, the chief issued the following statement:
“To Northampton Media,
“I take exception to your portrayal of my denial to release videos and pictures in your article posted 14 Nov. The refusal was my decision, not Captain Koncas’, and it should be clear on that point.
“Please understand, my position not to release docucam video is not based on any cover-up or reluctance, but on my longstanding belief any pretrial pictures or videos are an invasion of the arrested individual’s privacy rights before coming in front of a judge and confirmation of probable cause for the arrest.
“Mug shots and cruiser video, as well as booking video, are all evidentiary in nature, and are part of the allegations we bring forward for a court to evaluate and decide probable cause for the complaint to go forward. We have opposed the release of a booking (mug) shot of an individual prior to Mr. Ryan’s case; and we have also, on the same principle, denied release of Mr. Ryan’s mug shot, arrest and booking video. These items and the police reports are all available upon arraignment, for a judge to rule probable cause did exist, as happened in Mr. Ryan’s case.
“We, as a matter of public records law, did release upon request the written reports of officers involved in the incident, properly redacting any information as required by guidance of the Secretary of Public Records and the Criminal Offender Reporting Information (CORI) guidelines established by the Criminal History Systems Board.
“Having said that, I am troubled by the defense team’s (decision) to take video in evidence and release it in a manner to put his client in the court of public opinion, and not the court which rules on matters of law, and the violations delineated by assaultive behavior against a police officer.
“Chief Russell Sienkiewicz”
The ACLU Weighs In on the Wallet Search
An important part of what happened in the Oct. 15 incident was Ryan’s reaction to the officer’s removing and looking through his wallet.
Interviewed Monday, Northampton lawyer William Newman, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Western Massachusetts office, had some opinions about the “pat and frisk” procedure police use and the right of personal privacy in such situations.
Police have a right to frisk a subject “if they have reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe they have weapons,” said Newman, who at our request reviewed the police reports and arrest video. He said the procedure is designed to ensure officer safety.
“But once they have the wallet, it’s clearly not a weapon, so why are they keeping it?” he asked rhetorically.
Unless in an automobile when approached by police, Newman said, a subject is not required to answer questions, produce identification, or even stick around. “If you are not under arrest and the police are not detaining you, there is no obligation to stay where you are,” he said. But, he added, if a police officer orders you not to leave, you should stay “as a practical matter.”
Because there is no audio record of what occurred in the minutes leading up to Ryan’s arrest, Newman said, it’s impossible to know what Ryan and Kohl were saying to one another prior to the officer taking Ryan’s wallet. “You can’t tell from the (video) tape what justification there was for that,” he said.
But, he added, “if the police did a pat-and-frisk and they don’t find a weapon or evidence of a crime, then there is no reason to search further.”
David Reid can be reached at email@example.com
© 2010 Northampton Media