Photo by David Howard King
Councilman Anasha Cummings believes that the arrest of activist Ken Zeoli for “trespassing” while requesting a complaint form from the Troy Police will lead to changes in how the public interacts with the Troy PD.
“This really illuminated a process failure,” says Cummings of Zeoli’s efforts to acquire a complaint form. “It’s something I’ve brought up with the chief in the past, that the system as it is now is really designed to instigate an internal investigation, it’s not to encourage feedback.”
Cummings says he wants to see Troy PD’s model resemble Albany’s, where forms are available in precincts and public places and go straight to the Community Police Review Board before the police get involved.
“People don’t engage in the process as it is now,” says Cummings.
Both Mayor Patrick Madden and Police Chief Brian Owens have Cummings’ proposal but have yet to respond.
Cummings says he would prefer Troy’s newly created Police Objective Review Board receive complaints first.
But there’s a hitch. It isn’t clear when the review board is actually going to meet.
Madden named members to the board the day after the massive Black Lives Matter Rally in June — 8 months after announcing he was seeking Troy residents to sit on the board during his reelection campaign in October. (A request for comment sent to the Troy Mayor’s office and Chief Owens have yet to be returned.)
If neither the mayor or chief take up his reforms Cummings says he will pursue legislative action. “Doing it legislatively will be the less efficient method but I also want to see it done,” says Cummings.
On Wednesday morning former Troy Councilman Bob Doherty watched from a distance while supporters gathered at the Rensselaer County Courthouse as Zeoli and his attorney Matt Toporowski met with the DA and Judge Debra Young.
“Keni’s a good kid. It’s a shame what they’re doing to him,” he says.
He says he’s called the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s office to let them know he feels they are being overzealous in their prosecution of Zeoli.
Zeoli, who is recovering from addiction, has focused on advocating for the homeless residents of Barker Park who have been pushed out by the city. When benches were removed by the city Zeoli replaced them. In concert with Equality For Troy and the Coalition for Barker Park Zeoli’s held barbeques and speak-outs in the space in defiance of the city that claims it removed the benches and ousted a feeding program due to concerns over COVID.
Zeoli, who is on probation, faces up to seven years in prison for the charge of trespassing and possession of marijuana. The marijuana was found during the arrest but Zeoli has a medical marijuana card. Zeoli alleges he was thrown down the stairs during the arrest and that police taunted him while he had a seizure. One officer on the scene at the time told this reporter that Zeoli “isn’t an upstanding citizen” because he has “children by multiple women.”
Toporwoski points to that and other interactions Zeoli has had with police as evidence that they have a vendetta against his client.
According to Toporowski a lengthy back and forth on Wednesday led to the judge agreeing to a full hearing on the matter where evidence will have to be presented to back up the trespassing and possession charges.
The hearing will take place in October, but Zeoli will be back in court before then, to answer to charges of criminal mischief involving damage allegedly done to the car of a man who threatened to run over protesters during protests stemming from Zeoli’s arrest.
Zeoli says he didn’t damage the car and Toporowski wonders why the man who threatened and allegedly injured protesters has not been charged himself. Toporowski says there is video footage proving Zeoli’s innocence.
Doherty says he’s perplexed by the situation. “The cops are being too defensive,” he says shaking his head.