Grand jury declines to indict officers involved in Dontay Ivy case

Albany County DA David Soares announced Wednesday afternoon that a grand jury has declined to hand up indictments on criminal charges for three officers involved with the incident in which Donald "Dontay" Ivy, an African-American man, died after being tasered this past April in Albany's Arbor Hill neighborhood.

Ivy, who suffered from schizophrenia and a heart condition, had gone to an ATM at an convenience store near his home that night when he was stopped by police. Officers said they had stopped Ivy because they believed he was acting suspiciously.

Details of the encounter are in a letter summarizing the DA office's investigation of the case that Soares says was sent to mayor Kathy Sheehan, and was also released to the public. It includes a narrative of the encounter -- of the stop, a search, a chase, the use of the taser, Ivy being subdued, Ivy's stopped breathing, and the EMS response -- built from comments by officers and what evidence the DA's office was able to gather.

It also reports that a forensic pathologist who examined Ivy's body -- Dr. Michael Sikirica -- concluded that Ivy had underlying heart conditions that "made him particularly susceptible to a heart attack brought on by the stress of the incident with the police." And in Sikirica's opinion, the taser did not cause Ivy's death, though it did contribute to the stress of the encounter.

The entire letter is embedded here...

Albany County DA's Office letter Dontay Ivy case

Notable about the letter's narrative of the encounter is that it's largely based on comments from officers who responded to the scene.

"Part of the reason this investigation went on as long as it did was that because we were hoping to have eyewitness testimony, information from someone other than law enforcement," Soares said during a press conference Wednesday. He said extensive efforts to find other witnesses -- including a public call for a person spotted on security cam video -- failed to find people who had seen what happened.

Another missing piece in the effort to get the full picture: Much of the police video equipment wasn't operating during the incident. The Soares letter notes that some in-car cameras weren't engaged by officers because department policy didn't require it for such a stop -- and other cameras couldn't have recorded even if they were engaged because they were missing the necessary storage devices.

"Body cams, microphones, cameras in the vehicles, all of those things will lead to greater transparency," Soares said during the press conference, noting the city of Albany is receiving a federal grant to acquire body cameras for officers. "Do I wish I had that here? Absolutely."

The Soares letter also urges the mayor and the Common Council to "carefully review the functionality of APD's video camera technology, as well as the policies regarding when that technology is used."

Probably the biggest question in the whole case is why Ivy was ever stopped at all. A clip from the Soares letter:

According to the officers, as they drove up the street, Officer [Joshua] Sears noticed Mr. Ivy. His attention was drawn to Mr. Ivy because he was wearing a "puffer" coat. This struck Officer Sears as odd because, in his opinion, it "wasn't that cold out yet." We know from historical weather data that it was was approximately 26 degrees in Albany at the time. Officer Sears also observed that Mr. Ivy was "walking heavily on his left arm." Moreover, Mr. Ivy appeared to be bunching his left hand in his sleeve. In his interview, Sears expressed his thinking that if Mr. Ivy were cold, he would put his hands in his pockets, or would put both hands in his sleeves. To Sears, it appeared that Mr. Ivy was trying to hide something in his sleeve. Officers are trained to observe the gait of subjects because certain visual cues, such as favoring one said, are associated with carrying concealed handguns. Officer Sears indicated that he had previously recovered illegal handguns from individuals walking in this area.

During his public comments Wednesday, David Soares reflected on the question of why Ivy was stopped.

"Fo the last six months I haven't been able to get the image of Dontay's sister out of my head. I think about her all the time. When we discuss the case she undoubtedly always comes to tears. And her question has always been why can't a person leave their home and go to the store and buy candy. That's the most profound question here, right? After we get away from the legalese. After we talk about the elements of all the homicide charges. At the end of the day we're left asking why can't young men of color walk through the streets at certain times of night without police interaction. The question is a simple one to ask, the answers are, however much more complicated. Because in a city where you have four shootings in one weekend, you also have to consider what we're placing on the men and women who wear the uniform. But there has to be a balance there where we know who is shooting who, and who the shooters are, and who your average citizens are."

Soares said the fact that Ivy suffered from mental illness, and that apparently went unnoticed by the officers who stopped him, also pointed to a need for better training and systems for these sorts of interactions.

Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration announced it will be protesting the grand jury decision late Friday afternoon outside Albany police headquarters.

Further coverage
+ TU: Donald Ivy family in disbelief over decision not to charge cops
+ TU: DA: Police will not face charges in death of Donald Ivy
+ TWCN: Full video of the Soares press conference

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