Village Delays Police Officer’s Disciplinary Decision

The New Paltz Town Board decided to postpone their decision on whether police brutality allegations will be brought upon an officer in the New Paltz Police Department (NPPD) last week. 

Initially, board members invited the local community to express comments and concerns about the brutality case on the evening of Dec. 6. However, board members felt they needed an additional two weeks to come to a comprehensive conclusion on the matter. 

According to Board Member Dan Kerr, the New Paltz Police Benevolent Association (NPPBA) sets a 90 day window in which complaints against the NPPD must be addressed. After the board expressed their concerns about the time constraint, the NPPBA granted them an extension.  

“We want to get all the information, whether it backs up one side of the story or the other,” said New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez. “We’ve repeatedly asked people to come forward with information and no one has, despite claims that additional videos are floating around.”

Back in the beginning of September, Paul Echols, a black resident of Ellenville, was arrested following an altercation in front of P&Gs Bar and Grill. Echols claims that he was repeatedly punched in the face by his arresting officer while handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle. As a result, Echols suffered a dislocated jaw and lost several teeth. Since then, numerous narratives surrounding the night’s incident have caused a stir within the village and town. 

The agency conducting the investigation is called the Police Citizens’ Advisory Commission, who review complaints against NPPD personnel and produce opinions to the New Paltz Police Commission. Members are made of culmination of civilians and police personnel including: Brendan McLaughlin, Richard Feisel, Gowri Parameswaran, Amanda Sisenstein, Cindy Woebse and NPPD Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi. This incident is the first major case that the commission has had to address since its conception two years ago.  

On Dec. 5, over 50 protesters from the Concerned Parents of New Paltz, the New Paltz International Socialist Organization and community members joined Echols in solidarity at the New Paltz Town Courthouse. Following Echols’ scheduling conference, he emerged with his lawyer, Michael Sussman, who thanked demonstrators and informed them that Echols’ trial would be delayed until March in order to gather the necessary witnesses and information.

Sussman secured new documents from the NPPD, which cast more light on what happened that night. However, accounts from other eyewitnesses and friends of Echols present contradictions that further confuse the complicated case. The most prominent statement provided comes from NPPD Officer Robert Knoth who admits to punching Echols in the face.

“I delivered a knee strike to Echols’ left thigh at which time he fell into the back seat of the car,” Knoth said. “My right arm was tangled in his hands and cuffs causing me to fall into the back seat onto Echols.” 

It was then that police reports claim an angry crowd flocked around the passenger side of the vehicle that Echols was being put into, heightening the chaos of the situation.   

 “At that time Echols spit a mouthful of blood into my face, mouth, eyes, and nose. Echols again attempted to spit in my face and I delivered three strikes to the right side of his face with a closed fist and was able to free myself.” 

In 2007, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals convicted a man with criminal assault for spitting on an individual for cursing at him. But the question at hand is whether Knoth’s use of force was justified or excessive in that scenario. According to NPPD Lt. Robert Lucchesi, the department does have an overarching policy on the use of force but cannot possibly legislate each incident an officer encounters. This policy is not readily available to the public and unattainable in time for print. 

“We need to approach this objectively,” Sussmann said. “Was there an actual, law enforcement related, reason why this happened? It can’t just be based on the subjective decision of the officer.”

Also included in the police reports was context to the “sucker-punch” that initially ignited the fight in front of P&G’s in September. According to testaments from police, Echols is seen grabbing the buttox of an unidentified woman, alongside his companion Kelly Sherman. The woman strikes Echols and tries to walk away, only to be followed by the two men who “continue to harass her.” At that point a light skinned man, identified as Nicholas Rosario, accompanies the female and strikes Echols in the mouth. Immediately after,  Sherman knocks Echols unconscious and police intervene. All three men are processed at the NPPD station and released with issued court dates. Only Echols is rushed to Kingston Hospital and eventually Westchester Medical Center for ample treatment. 

The remaining details of the case consist of conflicting remarks from both sides of the argument. Sherman and Echols’ childhood friend Frank Pereira, another eyewitness, downplay the severity of Echols’ initial interaction with the police. They also deny claims from the police that Echols was actively resisting arrest while being detained by the police. In their eyes he was just sticking up for his friend who defended him. Both men also suggested that Echols has a bad history with the NPPD and felt that the police had it out for him. Until recently, Pereira was roommates with Echols and observed the toll the emotional and physical toll it took on him. 

“Paul was out of work, depressed and totally out of it for two months after [the incident],” Pereira said. 

“The question now is if the police account I received tonight an accurate portrayal of what happened of what happened or a bias account,” Sussman said. “From my 40 years of doing this work, unfortunately, it’s often not true.”

The final decision to determine whether the officer in question will be penalized for his actions will occur at the New Paltz Town Hall on Dec, 20 at 6 p.m. The New Paltz PCAC will make present their findings to the board who will make their final decision. 

According to Kerr, if Knoth is found guilty, New Paltz Police Chief Joseph Snyder will then recommend disciplinary action that will be presented to the local Police Benevolent Association for final approval.  

The trial to disciplinary decision will be presented at the New Paltz Town Courthouse next Thursday, Dec. 20, at 6 p.m.

“This is still an ongoing investigation and I know there misinformation surrounding the case,” Lucchesi said. “It’s imperative that the public has patience, and allows the process to run its course, before jumping to conclusions.”

Also included in the police reports was context to the “sucker-punch” that initially ignited the fight in front of P&G’s in September. According to testaments from police, Echols was seen grabbing the buttocks of an unidentified woman, alongside his companion Kelly Sherman. The woman struck Echols and tried to walk away, only to be followed by the two men who “continue[d] to harass her.” At that point a light skinned man, identified as Nicholas Rosario, accompanied the female and hit Echols in the mouth. Immediately after, Sherman knocked Rosario unconscious and police intervened. All three men were processed at the NPPD station and released with issued court dates. Only Echols was rushed to Kingston Hospital and eventually Westchester Medical Center for ample treatment. 

The remaining details of the case consist of conflicting remarks from both sides of the argument. Sherman and Echols’ childhood friend Frank Pereira, another eyewitness, downplayed the severity of Echols’ initial interaction with the police. They also denied claims from the police that Echols was actively resisting arrest while being detained by the police. In their eyes he was just sticking up for Sherman who defended him. Both men also suggested that Echols has a bad history with the NPPD and felt that the police had it out for him. Until recently, Pereira was roommates with Echols and observed the emotional and physical toll it took on him. 

“Paul was out of work, depressed and totally out of it for two months after [the incident],” Pereira said. 

“The question now is if the police account I received tonight is an accurate portrayal of what happened of what happened or a bias account,” Sussman said. “From my 40 years of doing this work, unfortunately, it’s often not true.”

The final decision to determine whether the officer in question will be penalized for his actions will occur at the New Paltz Town Hall on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. The New Paltz PCAC will present their findings to the board who will make their final decision. 

According to Kerr, if Knoth is found guilty, New Paltz Police Chief Joseph Snyder will then recommend disciplinary action that will be presented to the local Police Benevolent Association for final approval.  

The trial to disciplinary decision will be presented at the New Paltz Town Courthouse next Thursday, Dec. 20 at 6 p.m.

“This is still an ongoing investigation and I know there misinformation surrounding the case,” Lucchesi said. “It’s imperative that the public has patience, and allows the process to run its course before jumping to conclusions.”