A defense attorney said in Troy city court last week that his client, Lamont Lee, suffered a “savage beating” from police when they arrested him downtown earlier this year.
Lee, 50, “was arrested at 10 p.m. March 3 and charged with third-degree criminal sales of a controlled substance, third-degree robbery, seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest and first-degree loitering,” according to the Troy Record police blotter. The arrest was made in front of 76 Congress St., which is between Third and Church streets.
While represented by the public defender’s office, Lee pleaded guilty to at least one count, the possession charge. But he has since retained a private attorney, Michael Feit, and is now seeking to withdraw the plea.
“This whole case is really a travesty,” Feit said in court on Thursday.
Days after Feit filed a motion in mid-April to withdraw his client’s guilty plea, Troy police officers, “displaying drawn weapons and three dogs, descended upon” Lee and his grandson, who were sitting in a parked car outside Lee’s daughter’s house, according to an April 28 letter Feit sent to Chief Brian Owens, portions of which he read to The Alt over the phone on Friday.
The cops “seized both men forcibly” and put them on the ground in handcuffs, the letter says. “During a substantial period of time, guns were pointed directly in the faces of these men, while a large black dog viciously snarled” nearby. Eventually, police freed the men, who were not removed from the scene or charged with any crime. The officers’ actions were “wholly unjustified,” the letter says.
Feit requested documents related to both the April and March incidents and asked Chief Owens “to undertake a departmental investigation” into them.
The four Troy police officers who filed charging documents in connection with the March 3 arrest are Justin Ashe, Christopher Parker, Louis Perfetti, and Kyle Jones—all members of the department’s plainclothes “Neighborhood Conditions Team.”
After being told he was under arrest, Lee pulled away from Officer Perfetti and tried to break his grasp, the cop said in a sworn statement. “The defendant refused numerous verbal commands that he was under arrest and to put his hands behind his back and did bury his left hand underneath his body while continuing to physically pull away from the complainant while also attempting to stand up.”
The robbery charge stemmed from an allegation made by Parker, who said Lee “repeatedly attempted” to take his gun.
Assistant Chief Daniel DeWolf declined to make the officers available for interviews. No personnel complaint of excessive force has been filed with the department by Lee or anyone acting on his behalf regarding the March 3 incident, DeWolf said, so there has been no internal probe.
The Alt subsequently learned of Feit’s April 28 letter and first asked DeWolf and Owens about it on Friday afternoon. DeWolf told The Alt on Monday that he had been unaware previously of the “depth” of the letter, and that the department will “look into” its allegations.
According to an affirmation filed in court last month by Feit, Lee’s attorney, the March 3 arrest was made without probable cause. And when officers took Lee to the police station, “the Desk Sergeant refused to allow Defendant to be locked up, but rather because of the apparent serious injuries to Defendant’s head, face, and body, directed that Defendant be transported to the hospital.”
Lee “suffered numerous injuries” as a result of the alleged beating, Feit said in the court filing.
The defendant was arraigned the day after his arrest and remanded without bail. Several days later, at a follow-up court appearance, Lee “was told that he would be released that very day” if he pleaded guilty to the possession charge, Feit said in the filing. Lee, “still suffering great pain and confusion as a result of his injuries,” thought “that pleading guilty to the charge was the only way he could be released and get proper medical treatment.”
Lee retained Feit as counsel later that month.
There is video footage of the alleged March 3 beating, Feit says in the court filing. When “one or more members of the Troy Police Department” learned of the presence of a video camera near the place of arrest, they showed up at the business location “and either seized or damaged” the video “beyond repair,” he says.
But the footage also essentially exported to the business owner’s cell phone, Feit said in court. Having obtained and watched it, the defense attorney says it supports his client’s claim of innocence.
The police department has the business owner’s video footage in evidence, Assistant Chief DeWolf said. He emphasized that the department regularly secures video evidence for cases and said the idea that officers would damage video is “preposterous.”
DeWolf said he has not watched the video but, based on case notes, does not believe there was a “savage beating.” He called Feit’s language “exaggerated.”
The Alt has not yet obtained or seen the video footage. DeWolf said the department would not release the video while Lee’s case is active. Feit also said he would not release it right now.
In an affidavit in support of the effort to withdraw his plea, Lee says that when the cops approached him that night, he “turned and placed both of my hands on the wall of the building where I was standing and then was viciously attacked, without justification, by several police officers.”
Feit argues that Lee’s guilty plea “was coerced under the totality of the circumstances extant” and that he “was not made aware of the body of law” that supports dismissal of charges when there is “egregious police conduct.”
After the court appearance on Thursday, Feit told The Alt that Lee’s case is “absolutely” one of “major significance for this community.”
A spokesman for Mayor Patrick Madden said the city is aware of Feit’s allegations but referred us to the Rensselaer County district attorney’s office, which declined to comment.
Update, 3:50 P.M. The Times Union reports that it has viewed the video footage at Feit’s office, though the attorney declined to release it publicly. The footage “shows the officers kicking, kneeing and punching Lamont Lee after they had already wrestled him to the ground,” according to the newspaper. The story continues:
In the video, police can be seen arriving where Lee and two other men are standing on Congress Street. The video contains no sound but Lee appears to respond to officers by placing his hands spread out on the wall with his back to the street.
The video then shows him reaching a hand into a left pants pocket. The officers pull his hand away and wrestle him to the ground. The other men stand along the wall in the background, watching as the four officers force Lee to the ground.
Lee and the officers are then seen rolling around on the ground with him standing up then being forced back down to the sidewalk. An officer can be seen kneeing Lee to hold him down. While Lee is sprawled on the ground, one officer hits him in the rear. Another officer appears to kick him at one point and he is repeatedly kneed. Near the end of the video, an officer can be seen punching Lee several times in the head.