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City police union: RPD officer's guilty verdict 'shocking and disappointing'

May 28, 2019 10:00 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Guilty. That was the verdict handed down to Rochester Police Officer Michael Sippel Tuesday. 

"Based on the credible and direct circumstantial evidence before this case, I find the people have disproven justification beyond a reasonable doubt and by the same standard proven Michael Sippel guilty of assault in the third degree."

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That's what Judge Thomas "Rainbow" Morse said as he read his verdict.       

Officer Michael Sippel had no reaction. 

Taking center stage in the trial was none other than video from police body cameras worn by Sippel and his partner Officer Spenser McAvoy.

On Bloss Street back in May of 2018, McAvoy repeatedly asked for Christopher Pate's identification. Pate hands it over and the incident seems over. Then, you see Sippel charge after Pate. It's at this point that Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Gina Clark said Pate was assaulted.

She said he suffered lacerations to his face, a broken orbital bone and injuries to his back.

Clark said the video was the "people's most important piece of evidence."                    

"As I said in my openings and closings...video is what it is," said Clark. "Video speaks for itself."

Defense attorney Clark Zimmerman thought that same video showed his client operated within the scope of his job as a police officer. He was shocked by the verdict. 

"I think it puts a definite chilling effect on officers to do their job," said Zimmerman.. 

Reporter: "In what way? Explain that."

Zimmerman: "They're going to be less willing to approach people, use force because they're going to be afraid that they're going to be charged criminally." 

"This case has never been about whether police officers can use physical force to effect a valid arrest - they can," Judge Morse said. 

This case, he said, was about what happened between Sippel, McAvoy and Pate, "and the legal issues surrounding that street encounter."

Rev. Lewis Stewart heads the community advocacy organization United Christian Leadership Ministry. He's been working with Pate. He questions if the charges went far enough, specifically why it wasn't a felony assault charge.

He thinks the standards are different based on race, status, etc.

"If I went out and assaulted a citizen, I would have been indicted with a felony, " Stewart said. "To me, there are certain pro-police sentiments here that cloud even the DA's judgment. I think those things need to be dispersed and individuals looked at for what they do."

LaRon Singletary will become chief of the Rochester Police Department effective July 1, 2019. He didn't want to comment on the verdict or Sippel's employment status. He did say as chief he will focus on transparency and accountability.

"What I ask the public is to take each case on its own merit," Singletary said. "Like I said earlier, there are so many police officers who come to work, not just in this department, but across this profession, across this country who do a great job and the vast majority of RPD officers do that...they have my full faith and confidence to do their job." 

Sippel will be sentenced on July 25. He could face up to a year in jail.  

The Rochester Police Locust Club called the verdict "shocking and disappointing."            

WHECTV

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