DA argues property damage, protests could ensue if video made public

Troy City Court Judge Christopher Maier announced he will rule Monday on whether video of activist Ken Zeoli’s search and booking can be made public. The announcement came following a testy hearing today.

Zeoli alleges he was brutalized while being arrested at a police precinct in Troy on August 21. At the time, he was demanding a complaint form. Zeoli was charged with trespassing and possession of marijuana.

The Rensselaer County DA’s office is attempting to restrict release of the video so that only Zeoli’s defense attorney, Matt Toporowski, can view it. The DA’s written affirmation cites a number of concerns including that the video could “prejudice” jurors in other cases and could lead to protests. 

It further cites the fact that Zeoli speaks to the press and makes commentary “unfavorable to the police” on social media. The DA’s office argues releasing the video could cause violence, citing the August 21 protest that it credits Zeoli with organizing, and refers to the crowd as “a large group of people with knives in their possession.” 

Review the DA’s filing here: 

It goes on to reference damage to a “civilian’s car,” which Zeoli was “arrested for.” That civilian is Robert Spinelli, who drove his black Dodge Challenger through a crowd of protesters after threatening them and screaming obscenities. He is associated with the pro-police Punishers biker group.

We reported last month that Spinelli faces an investigation at the NY State Office of Child and Family Services, where he works, based on his involvement in the incident. 

Toporowski says Zeoli was not involved in damaging Spinelli’s vehicle and has video to prove it. 

Toporowski argues that booking video is routinely submitted in cases and that the burden is on prosecutors to prove that release of the video could cause harm to someone in the video, like a confidential informant or a victim. Further, Toporowski says that the DA’s office listed the video as evidence, promised him they would provide it and then suddenly, at the last minute, decided they would file an order to limit its release. 

Judge Maier asked Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hauf whether his office routinely provides video of a breathalyzer given at a station in DWI cases. Hauf responded in the affirmative but said there he is only trying to prove intoxication and that this case involves trespassing, which occurred in a public area of the police station. 

Maier asked Toporowski what would happen if the video was made public to only have it not be admitted as evidence in the trial. 

“With all due respect, your honor, that video is coming in,” said Toporowski, noting that the search police conducted that allegedly led to the discovery of marijuana on Zeoli’s person, should be on the video. 

Toporowski also argued that despite the DA’s office’s concerns about how the video might be portrayed by the press and used on social media, representatives of the office have already commented to the press about the video. 

Toporowski read off a comment the office gave to The Times Union. The DA’s office also gave 518Independent a statement on Friday, one hour before the hearing.

“The District Attorney’s Office does not oppose release of the video to defendant’s counsel,” reads the statement from District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly. “Rather, our office has concerns about misuse of the video if it is released to the defendant or the general public. A release of the video in that capacity could impact integrity of this prosecution and other prosecutions, both those related to Mr. Zeoli or to any other persons portrayed on the tape. We await the judge’s decision.” 

Topoworski also read comments made by police about the video that were reported by 518Independent. 

Toporowski says that if the judge rules against releasing the video fully he will appeal immediately. “I cannot see a judge issuing a decision that fear of protests or negative social media posts about police is a valid basis for a protective order,” said Toporowski.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *