Area police react to Chauvin verdict

Tiadaughton Valley Regional Police Sgt. Brian Fioretti stands in front of a police car Wednesday. PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette

In light of the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, some local police and community leaders believe the national rhetoric needs to be toned down.

“We need to lower the rhetoric, turn down the volume,” said Steven W. Cappelli, South Williamsport borough manager and borough public safety director.

In aftermath of this week’s verdict against Chauvin, who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for more than nine minutes last year, murdering Floyd while a crowd watched, Cappelli and others said they are concerned about broad brush strokes that have been painted on law enforcement.

“I strongly object to assertions by certain elected officials and certain members of the national media that law enforcement is systemically racist,” Cappelli said.

He had no opinion on the jury convicting Chauvin on all counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. However, he noted the societal culture of “castigating, demeaning and characterizing our police officers as militaristic and uncaring was despicable.”

Likewise, damage cities such as Minneapolis incurred and pervasive threats that destroy the fabric of the nation must end, he said.

Regarding the use of excessive use of force by officers, departments have policies and procedures in place, many of which are the result of state appellate court judicial rulings and opinions, said Cappelli, who was mayor of Williamsport, a city councilman, and a member of the state House of Representatives.

He said the departments need more real-world experience and tactical police training along with better communications and community policing.

“It’s no longer enough for an officer to go once a year to a firing range and shoot his or her duty sidearm,” Cappelli said.

“We need to ensure our departments get real-world training in the use of non-lethal and deadly force,” he said.

Two veterans of law enforcement suggest inflammatory statements slanted against police may end up stripping away officers immunity, exposing them to more civil or criminal litigation.

“That’s a concern,” said Montoursville Police Chief Jeff Gyurina. He pointed out how “qualified immunity” protects government officials, including those in law enforcement, from civil suits unless plaintiffs can show “clearly established” rights were violated, a standard that is generally difficult to meet.

He noted how there is an occasional bad apple or cop who shouldn’t be one — as there is in health care, media, legal professionals and other fields.

For three years, borough officers have worn department-issued body cameras, Gyurina said. These videos protect officers from false reports, he said. The camera footage resolves quickly any claims of use of excessive or unnecessary force, he said.

“If the officer is wrong and should be held responsible, he or she will be held accountable,” Gyurina said.

As for that need, Gyurina said police are trained from the start at the police academy to use of what’s known as “force continuum.”

It begins with verbal commands and moves on from there, he said, adding some suspects encountered may have mental issues, recalling an incident in which man was at first laughing, crying and then turned aggressive toward the officer.

“You never know,” Gyurina said, referring to the recent chase by an officer in Chicago of a 13-year-old boy that resulted in the teen tossing a gun over a fence and turning around quickly with his hands up and the officer firing and killing the youth.

“It’s scary,” said Sgt. Brian Fioretti, of the Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department, which covers Jersey Shore, and the townships of Cummings, McHenry, Nippenose, Piatt and Porter.

Fioretti said he was referring to how cable television networks show shorter or longer clips of police-involved incidents, which can slant public perception.

He said the region’s residents appreciate the department and the 11 full-time and three part-time officers work for the betterment and protection of the communities west of the city.

As for the tone and rhetoric these officers and Cappelli were concerned about, ongoing support for causes such as Black Lives Matter does not appear to be ending with the Chauvin verdict.

Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Lauren P. McKenna, in a statement, said the nonviolent demonstrations will continue.

“We believe it was the right outcome, but it in no way represents a victory,” McKenna said.

“Floyd’s family will still have to live with the tragic loss of their son, brother and father. And while this verdict takes perhaps a very small step toward atoning for the massive inequalities faced by black and brown people who interact with the justice system, there is a lot of difficult work left to do,” McKenna said.

“We must continue to engage in nonviolent protest, to write, to speak, to have courageous conversations about the role we all play in achieving equal rights for all individuals and justice for victims of senseless acts of violence,” McKenna said.

“This verdict is a continuation of the fight for equal justice for all.”

Michele Frey, an attorney with the Lycoming Law Association, referred a call for comment to Donald Martino, an attorney and association president.

She said the association typically has not commented on national legal matters and Martino did not return a call for comment for the story.

Mayor Derek Slaughter did not return a call requesting his comments and city police Chief Damon R. Hagan declined to comment.


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