Section: MAIN Page: A1 Date: Friday, July 21, 2000
POLICE TACTICS SURFACE AT TRIALBRENDAN LYONS Staff writer
Before police fanned out into Arbor Hill to join the search for a man accused of shooting two of their fellow officers last fall, a police supervisor issued a ``no-tolerance order,'' instructing his officers to arrest anyone suspected of breaking the law, no matter how minor, according to internal police documents.
The order was issued several hours before police entered the North Swan Street area, where officers were accused of using racial epithets and excessive force in the predominantly black neighborhood after the search. Critics say the order heightened tensions between police and residents that day. The department came under fire for the way officers conducted themselves after the initial search for 34-year-old Tracy Grady. The no-tolerance order came to light during the trial of Almasi Forrest, one of three men arrested on minor charges during a melee outside Fat Dee's convenience store after police swept through the neighborhood. A resisting-arrest charge against Forrest was dropped by prosecutors, but Forrest was convicted Thursday of disorderly conduct and was fined $250. His lawyer, Randall E. Kehoe, said he would appeal. At the trial, Lt. Dennis Dolan, a uniform patrol supervisor in Arbor Hill, testified that he instructed officers to arrest anyone breaking the law in that neighborhood. ``I said I don't want even an open-container violation to be overlooked,'' Dolan said under cross-examination. ``At roll call, I told all the officers they were to strictly enforce all laws.'' Kehoe contends the no-tolerance order prompted officers to be overzealous as police sought leads on Grady's whereabouts. Grady is accused of grabbing a pistol from Officer Thomas Shea and using it to shoot Shea and his partner, Stanley Nadoraski. Both officers have returned to active duty. Grady was arrested several weeks after the shooting in Atlanta. In sworn statements to internal affairs detectives, some officers said the message from their higher-ups was clear.
William Warner, a bicycle patrol officer, said in his statement to internal affairs detectives that that day was not routine. He said Dolan instructed several officers to concentrate their patrols on the area where the two officers had been shot. ``Basically (he told us to) talk to people, everyone you see, talk to everyone on the street, have no tolerance with anything at all,'' Warner said in the statement. ``Open container, whatever, just absolutely no tolerance that day.'' Chief John C. Nielsen said the department does not use the term ``no tolerance order.'' Still, Nielsen said instructing officers to saturate a neighborhood, to make arrests and to talk to people on the street is a tactic commonly used by police departments when information about a difficult case, such as an unsolved homicide, is sought. ``If you take that explosive terminology out, I don't have a problem with the policy,'' Nielsen said. ``The meaning of the lieutenant's message was not to be oppressive, but it put us in a position to force communication. If someone's breaking the law and we hold them to the letter of the law, then we open the lines of communication.'' The controversial arrests took place around 12:20 p.m. at the corner of Clinton Avenue and North Swan Street. As the search for Grady continued, an Arbor Hill corner erupted in chaos in front of Fat Dee's when more than a dozen officers swarmed the scene as Warner and Officer Thomas Blesser arrested a man on a minor marijuana charge. Three men -- Forrest, Warren Washington and Sean Foskey -- say they were pepper-sprayed, beaten and called racial epithets by police as they were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, a violation. They claim they were only observing the man being arrested on a marijuana violation, but police officers claim they refused orders to move on. Several witnesses at Forrest's trial before City Court Judge John C. Egan Jr. testified that it was the police who ignited the chaos in front of Fat Dee's.
One witness, Louis King, 55, testified that officers became infuriated when someone yelled: ``This is why you cops get shot.'' ``The police said: `If someone said that, arrest them all,' '' King said. King testified that he began instructing young men gathered on the corner to get into his house to avoid being arrested. ``I was frightened,'' King testified. ``They just pounced on everyone who was out there.'' Another witness, Mamie Maxwell of Clinton Avenue, testified that she heard an officer use racially charged obscenities as he chased one of the men across Clinton Avenue. ``People were afraid,'' Maxwell testified. ``They (police) weren't saying disperse. They were just all over everybody.''
Forrest claims he was beaten by an officer with a nightstick as he lay face-down on the ground in handcuffs and an officer pulled his pants down and sprayed his backside with pepper spray. The arrests reignited calls for a civilian police review board. Nine officers face discipline ranging from counseling to firing over the incident. The disciplinary charges are still pending, officials said. The identities of the Albany police officers facing disciplinary charges in the incident have not been made public. Forrest, Washington and Foskey have filed a $6 million federal claim against the city.