The woman who was put on a ventilator after a Syracuse police officer arrested her in Armory Square this weekend is calling for his firing, her lawyer Jesse Ryder said.
Uniyah Chatman, 25, who police arrested and accused of stealing a tip jar at a pizza shop in downtown Syracuse, filed a complaint against officer Leonard Brown with the Citizen Review Board.
Her lawyer has previously sued Brown, alleging misconduct. In Chatman’s case, Brown was not wearing a body-worn camera. Despite the Syracuse Police Department’s refusal to take questions at a news conference about the incident earlier this week, Police Chief Joe Cecile answered questions from Central Current about Chatman’s claims.
In her CRB complaint, Chatman accused Brown of targeting her because of her race and sexuality. She alleged that Brown body-slammed her on the street and choked and hit her once she was put in a Syracuse police patrol car.
She wrote in the complaint Brown whispered to her that officers would find the money she was accused of stealing from the pizza shop tip jar. “You want to be a man, I’ll show you what it’s like to be a man,” Chatman said the officer told her in her complaint.
“This was a threat against me because I am gay and I was very scared of him,” Chatman wrote.
After Brown arrested her, Chatman was left with multiple injuries, including a large scar on her forehead, a swollen right eye that she cannot see out of and a severe head injury, she said.
Police Chief Joe Cecile said in written answers to Central Current that the department did not have any video that could confirm Chatman’s allegations of Brown making homophobic comments. He asked for anyone who might have seen or recorded the interaction to send video to the police.
“We currently have no evidence that confirms this interaction,” Cecile said of Chatman’s claims about her interactions with Brown. “We ask all those who may have video footage or other evidence to please submit to SPD or CRB, so we can further investigate this claim.”
Leonard Brown involved in Shaolin Moore arrest, lawyer says
Ryder is also suing Brown on behalf of another one of his clients: Shaolin Moore.
In a 2019 arrest that went viral, Shaolin Moore was stopped and dragged out of a car by Syracuse police officers for playing loud music.
Brown was one of the four officers who held down Moore while arresting him, Ryder said.
Moore, with Ryder as his lawyer, accused the officers involved of excessive force and of not following the department’s policies on demeanor. The CRB sustained various complaints against all four officers, according to a letter disclosing the findings of its investigation. Then-police chief Kenton Buckner also said Brown had violated the department’s policy on professionalism.
It’s not clear which of the officers were found to have committed demeanor and excessive force violations. The CRB does not disclose that information to recommendations for discipline against individual officers in its letters to complainants or to the public. Ryder said Brown was one of the officers who hit Moore.
Ryder said Brown served on the Crime Reduction Team, a disbanded proactive policing unit that drew community complaints for its aggressive tactics.
The lawyer said after he watched the body-worn camera footage with Chatman’s family, he told Cecile: “You know Brown’s going to kill somebody and you’ve known that for a long time.”
Why Brown wasn’t wearing a body-worn camera
Brown was not wearing a body-worn camera because he typically works as part of a plain clothes unit, Cecile said. On Saturday, he was working an overtime shift in Armory Square.
Detectives who work in the criminal investigations division — the division with which Brown works — have not yet been required to wear body-worn cameras.
Patrol officers, members of the SWAT team and special investigations division detectives already have to wear body-worn cameras.
Cecile said the department has 281 body-worn cameras and that the department was already in the process of outfitting CID detectives with them.
“This phase is in the works and was already in progress before this incident because we know how critically important and valuable they are for transparency, investigations, and training purposes,” Cecile said.
Account of Armory Square arrest
The events of that night will likely play out in CRB and court hearings, as Ryder gears up to file a lawsuit.
Chatman’s lawyer provided an account of the night in the CRB complaint. Some of the details can be verified in security footage and body camera footage captured by other officers on scene, shown by Syracuse Police at the press conference.
Chatman said she went out with friends on Friday night to celebrate a job offer.
Early on Saturday morning, Chatman went to Nick’s Tomato Pie to buy pizza. Chatman ordered and paid for pizza that servers later told her the shop didn’t have, she would later tell police.
The server suggested Chatman take a slice of pizza that she couldn’t eat, she told police.
Out of frustration, Chatman took the tip jar from the counter, she told police.
Chatman later wrote in her CRB complaint that she left the tip jar in the restaurant. She wrote she never intended to steal anything, and made that clear to the employees and officers.
Officers arrived at Nick’s at about 1:40 a.m. They questioned Chatman about the incident, they told an employee from the pizza shop that at most, Chatman could be charged with petit larceny. Chatman started to walk away from officers before they called her back toward the restaurant. That’s when she had an interaction with Brown captured on body-camera footage.
The two had some discussion and then Chatman spit in Brown’s face, according to police.
Brown spun Chatman around to try to cuff her, video showed. As Brown and another officer tried to cuff Chatman, her head slammed into a window and then also appeared to hit the brick siding of the building.
Chatman accused the officers of then bodyslamming her and driving their knees into her back. She said she repeatedly told officers she couldn’t breathe.
The video shows the officers taking Chatman to the ground.
When officers lifted her up, she kicked through a car window, video showed.
Because Brown didn’t have a body camera on, police did not have any video of Chatman being put into the back of the police car. As Brown was putting Chatman in the car, a bystander can be heard yelling: “Why were you choking her? You were just choking her.”
The department will investigate the “use of force,” police said at the news conference.
While Chatman was in the car, she fell in and out of consciousness, she wrote. She did not receive medical care on Walton Street because she was kicking the doors of the patrol car, Deputy Chief Mark Rusin said.
Chatman was taken to the jail, where an EMT gave her a sedative.
She was placed on a ventilator at the hospital and was taken off of it later that day, according to her lawyer. Chatman wrote in her complaint that she is now having trouble with digestion, walking and sleeping.
She was charged with petit larceny, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to her allegations in the CRB complaint.
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