2 March 1999
I'm writing to let you know about a bad experience I recently had
with the City Police. I've read about this and seen it on TV, but never thought I
would personally experience what a lot of people call "police brutality."
Mayor, before I describe what happened, let me give you my personal
background. I was born and raised in Lyons, New York. My parents were Italian immigrants.
I graduated from the Air Force Academy and was an instructor pilot. Later I was an
operations officer. I've lived in the Syracuse area since 1984, and most recently was a
lector at St. Stephen's parish in Phoenix. I've done volunteer work at the
Oxford Inn here in Syracuse.
I am involved in a parent's right movement. At times our approach
uses non-violent Civil Disobedience. Right now I am writing you from a cell block in the
Justice Center. I am trying to encourage legislators, who ignored earlier requests, to do a
serious investigation about how the family law system works. My goal is to stay in jail
until getting some type of acknowledgement from them, i.e. "Mr. Murtari, we
will/won't investigate." I've written, and members of the group have
written to Assemblyman Bragman, Congressman Walsh, and Governor Pataki.
I was originally arrested on the 19th by Sheriff's
deputies when I refused to leave their Salina substation. It was covered in the paper last
Saturday. While the deputies did not agree with what I was doing and tried to talk me out
of it, there was no yelling, threats, or physical abuse. I have now spent over a week
in the Justice Center and have uniformly been impressed by the restraint and discipline
showed by them in some difficult situations. Last Wednesday, the 29th, I was
released, but wanted to remain in jail. The deputies told me to try the Public Safety
I walked in around 10 p.m., explained to the desk clerk that I was
protesting and that I wanted to be arrested for trespass or whatever was easy. Two
officers were primarily involved with the abuse/arrest which followed. One was older
(40's), one young (20's). I also made it very clear that this was not a protest
about the police and that I well respected them and the job they did. To which they yelled
back, "We DO NOT RESPECT YOU." They yelled this at me several times through the
events which followed. They grabbed me and pushed me out of the building. I never resisted
any of their physical conduct and always kept my hands down at my side. I never raised my
After pushing me out the front door they told me I had better just leave.
I told them I couldn't do that and would go back in the building. They became quite
angry, started pushing me out to the street. I felt repeated quick blows on my back. They
were both behind me. The older was yelling, "Where is your car parked? Where do you
live?" I told him I was from Lyons and a friend had dropped me of. By this time we
were out at the street in front of the building. I had heard my shirt rip, and later found
out I lost two buttons. The shirt was beneath my jacket. The older officer told me I was
on public property now. He told me I should, "stay the fuck away!" Again I told
them I would return to the building and that I wanted to be arrested. They yelled that I
shouldn't do that here, that I should protest with the Judges at the Courthouse.
Again the pushing and hitting started, one was usually behind me, the other near my side.
They pushed me across State Street toward the Court. I was told that if I didn't
leave they would write the arrest report up so it sounded like I was acting crazy and they
would, "put you away for a psych-eval." They also mentioned something called a
C-PEP. I told them I didn't think that was right, but I still wanted to be arrested.
By this time we approached the other side of the street and I saw a police
car pull up and the officer got out and watched for a while. The other officers again told
me to stay away, not come back, protest somewhere else. It was almost all yelling. During
this time the officer from the car asked what was going on. The other officers told him I
was protesting and wanted to be arrested. The officer from the car continued to watch.
When I told them I would still go back, the two officers then pushed me
against the Court House wall. Applying a lot of basic pressure and with my face close to
the wall, the older officer yelled, "Look, this is where you need to protest. Got
that!" At that time I really thought I might get my head bounced against the
They then briefly let up. I was asked to turn around and they moved in
front of me. Again they told me not to follow them back. I started to move away from them
to walk to the Public Safety Building another way. They moved in front of me, they were
chest-to-chest and again, threatening. The older officer then told me he was going to
start walking back to the building (he called it his domicile), and if I followed him he
would consider that threatening and be authorized to defend himself. He started to turn
away and I told him I was going to go back. He spun back and hit me in the chest, and
again got face-to-face. He said, "Look, if you keep this up you will be going to jail
via the hospital." I told him I didn't want that to happen. Again, at that
moment I was afraid I was going to get a hand to the face or slammed to the pavement.
A few seconds later the officer who had arrived in the car seemed to take
charge. He called me over to his car and told me to empty my pockets. The younger and
older officer, who had pushed me over from the Public Safety Building, then put hand cuffs
on me, walked me back to the building, and did the arrest. Those same two officers
escorted me over to Booking at the Justice Center. They seemed to calm down.
The younger officer was polite while he was writing up the arrest report, and the older
officer was civil as we walked over.
As I was finishing up in Booking I told the older officer, "You guys
were a little rough, weren't you." He did not seem to have any regrets and told
me, "Thats how it is."
Mayor, is that how it is in Syracuse? Those two officers are still on
duty, and I'm afraid that attitude is still on duty. What if I'd been a poorly
dressed black man? As a former military training officer, I can assure you the
chest-to-chest yelling attitude is used to intimidate and provoke. Almost any other person
would have raised their hands and perhaps pushed away at this threatening officer. You
can just imagine what their response would have been.
I will be filing a complaint against the officers. But more importantly
than that, I hope strong, public, administrative action will be taken by both you and the
Police chief. Those two officers and others need to understand that type of conduct toward
a non-violent protestor is not "the way it is."
I would have sent a copy of this letter to the Police Chief (but their
isn't a copier on the cell block). I hope your staff will forward him a copy.
Mayor, I also want to bring to your attention that I will appear in front
of Judge DeJoseph on March 11th. I would like to see this go to trial and those
two officers called to the witness stand. I do not want to see the charges against me
dropped and the whole matter swept under the rug. I hope you can have some influence with
the DA, that the people of Syracuse have an interest in a speedy and public trial.
Personally, I want you to know that I have followed your career with some
interest on your way from City Auditor to Mayor. I admire your pursuit of truth, and your
persistence and faith to keep tryingCongratulations on all you have achieved. I hope
you can understand my struggle as a disenfranchised parent. What else do we have but