Mayor Apologizes To Wooden Family

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Chief Brenner
Mayor Herzig

ONEONTA – Mayor Gary Herzig and Police Chief Doug Brenner this morning announced Common Council will be asked to create a Community Advisory Board to review operating procedures in the wake of George Floyd’s death while being taken in to custody in Minneapolis.

“All it can do it make us better,” the mayor said in an interview a few moments ago.

Herzig said that, following reports of last Sunday’s “Rally for Justice” in Cooperstown, he called Bryce Wooden, who described his parents being interrogated at gunpoint by officers in 2000, and apologized for the incident.

However, action on the advisory board, he said, was not specifically a response to Wooden’s statements, but was taken “because we’re all being made aware that racism exists in every community.  We want make sure we’re not pretending it doesn’t exist in our community.”

The mayor said if there are any brutality complaints against the OPD right now, he is unaware of them.

In the official statement he and Brenner released this morning, Herzig said the advisory board “will be tasked with reviewing our current police operating procedures to make certain there are adequate safeguards against bias and unequal treatment,” and “will be asked to provided input on issues ranging from training to investigating citizen complaints.”

The statement quotes Brenner as saying there will be “an open line for communication, ideas, honest answers and transparency. The department is open to a sincere and constructive review … I am excited and enthusiastic to be part of this process and to look forward to working together.”

The mayor said he is still working on the makeup of the advisory board, but that minorities will be fully represented.  He said he is unsure if all of its meetings will be open to the public, but he pledged “transparency.”  He said Common Council will be asked for its approval, not at its meeting next Tuesday, but the meeting after that – the first Tuesday in July.

An allegation by a black suspect in 2011 – that he was punched several times while being taking into custody – was a formative event in the department Brenner now leads.  The officer, Michael Breen, was fired, and the then-police chief, Joseph Redmond, chose to retire rather than lead the department through a period of “cultural change,” then-Mayor Dick Miller was reported saying at the time.

A former Broome County undersheriff, Gary O’Neill, was appointed interim chief and during his year at the helm the local department earned state certification.  After that, Dennis Nayor, now Ithaca’s police chief, was promoted to chief, and Brenner to deputy chief. When Nayor moved on in 2016, Brenner succeeded him.

Herzig and Council member David Rissberger opened the conversation with Brenner early this week, after Floyd’s May 25 death led to “Rallies for Justice” in Muller Plaza on May 31 and Cooperstown June 7,

In the Wooden case, Herzig said he apologized even though the incident had occurred long before he took office, and even though Wooden told him it was a state police case, not an OPD case.

At Sunday’s rally, Wooden said his mother, Kimberly, a Valley View teacher, now retired, had asked for an apology and never received it.

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