RPD excessive force investigation: Officer indicted for misdemeanor assault

The Monroe County District Attorney's Office, Rochester Police Department and City of Rochester are holding a news conference Friday in what is expected to be a decision on the Christopher Pate case. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - The Monroe County District Attorney's Office announced Friday that a misdemeanor assault charge has been filed against a Rochester police officer accused of using excessive force.

Officers Michael Sippel and Spenser McAvoy were accused in a wrongful arrest case, which alleged that the two beat Christopher Pate on May 5, 2018. Pate said after providing his identification to the officers, he was grabbed, had a stun gun used on him, then was handcuffed and subsequently punched in the face, causing occipital bone and jaw fractures, as well as other damage to his mouth.

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It was determined to be a case of mistaken identity, and all charges were dropped by Rochester City Court Judge Maija Dixon. A subsequent review of the body camera footage by then-Rochester Police Department Chief Michael Ciminelli led to the arrest being labeled a "failure," and Mayor Lovely Warren calling it "egregious."

In August, it was announced that Officers Sippel and McAvoy had been suspended without pay pending a criminal investigation.

The D.A.'s Office said in September that it would send the case to a grand jury. Friday, District Attorney Sandra Doorley announced a grand jury had charged Officer Sippel with one count of misdemeanor assault in the third degree. He is due to be arraigned on November 15.

"Specifically, the grand jury's allegation is that Officer Sippel, with the intent to cause a physical injury to another person, caused such injury to Christopher Pate," Doorley said Friday, reading from a statement.

No charges were announced against Officer McAvoy. Doorley said the grand jury has risen, and that no other charges will be filed.

Doorley could not comment on what evidence was presented to the grand jury.

"I believe the presentation that was given to the grand jury, including any body-worn camera evidence and testimony from people who were there was clear," Doorley said.

Rochester Police released the following statement Friday:

The Rochester Police Department is aware of the Grand Jury’s decision involving two of our members. Due to this case being a pending matter before the court, and out of respect for the judicial process and our own internal investigation, it would be inappropriate to provide any further comment regarding this event. The Men and Women of the RPD will continue to serve the citizens of Rochester with the highest level of service, respect, and professionalism.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released this statement Friday afternoon:

The decisions handed up today by the Monroe County Grand Jury represent the first step in the judicial process. We must accept these decisions and allow the criminal justice system to take its course. I want to thank the men and women of the Grand Jury for fulfilling their solemn duty as citizens. I also remain eternally grateful to the Rochester Police Department, for risking their lives each day to protect and serve the people of our city. I also want to thank our community and ask them to continue partnering with us as we do our best to provide safer and more vibrant neighborhoods, jobs and better educational opportunities for our citizens.

Reverend Lewis Stewart of the United Christian Leadership Ministry, however, criticized the district attorney's office for not securing more severe indictments against both officers.

"In a sense, it is a mixed situation," Stewart said at a news conference Friday. "On the other hand, it will send a message that police officers are not above the law. However, I believe D.A. Doorley should have fought hard to indict both."

13WHAM News will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

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