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Sheriff’s Office actions during BLM protest reviewed

POUGHKEEPSIE — More than three weeks after a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest was held in Pleasant Valley, which was attended by 700 people, including a number of Millbrook residents and leaders, conflict continues. Both the BLM group and the group that formed a counter protest in support of the police, Blue Lives Matter — or Back the Blue (BtB) — have been accused of misconduct. The Dutchess County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, chaired by Legislator Gregg Pulver (R-19), met on Thursday, Aug. 6, in Poughkeepsie with representatives of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) to discuss the protest and the DCSO’s actions. 

Several legislators were present, including Leg. Deirdre Houston (R-25). District 25 includes parts of Pleasant Valley as well as Millbrook and other municipalities.

While Sgt. Adam Harris of the Internal Affairs Bureau stated that small groups on both sides resorted to violence, he added no formal complaints were filed by the BLM protesters; only one complaint was filed by a counter protester. However, he later said a “handful” of complaints are being investigated. 

Sheriff Adrian “Butch” Anderson, Sgt. Harris, Lt. Shawn Castano, Capt. John Watterson and Undersheriff Kirk Imperati were on hand Aug. 6 to discuss how the DCSO handled the situations that arose during the protest and counter protest, which have come under fire for being out of control. A young girl was reportedly punched at the rally.

Many different videos have surfaced of the day of the protests, through the main stream and social media. The police are looking into the protests but complained they haven’t been given any evidence of criminal wrongdoing; Harris said that he has had about 75 complaints emailed to him, but that 95% were edited versions of the same complaint.

There was some ambiguity following the presentation on Aug. 6 if the DCSO had been informed that the counter protest was planned on July 18, but the BLM group had met with both Pleasant Valley government leaders and members of the Sheriff’s Office.

On July 16, Capt. Watterson confirmed, “Sheriff Anderson announced that law enforcement is aware of two potential planned demonstrations in the Town of Pleasant Valley this upcoming Saturday, July 18.”

Also, on a social media post that went viral, former Detective Dan Balasonne reportedly referred to the BLM protest and advised counter protesters to show up.

“This would be a great opportunity for Back the Blue, Right to Life and MAGA groups to have their own demonstrations and get some exposure,” he wrote. 

Amenia native Royal Parker, along with Kevin Halcott and Lauren Sky, co-organizers of the BLM protest, said they were assured by the Sheriff’s Office that protesters would be kept safe and protected; many had received death threats following the announcement of their protest on July 2. 

Halcott has organized social justice protests for 17 years; Parker has helped organize recent protests in Millbrook. Having attended Webutuck schools, he now lives in Pleasant Valley.

The marching route on July 18 was established with “peace-keepers” peppered throughout, in case of trouble, to keep everyone calm and to prevent BLM protesters from engaging with counter protesters. They were easily identifiable with their bright yellow vests.

The sheriff’s deputies admitted that their communications were compromised, due to interference with the cell tower they were using. That has since been rectified. They had 70 deputies present, but many were on the outskirts of town, a decision now being reconsidered as a more obvious presence might have deterred criminal activity.

Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias (D-1) was among those with questions following the DCSO’s presentation.

“Speaking for Black and brown people and for those who were there, our biggest issue is that we do not trust law enforcement, even less the Sheriff’s Department,” he said, adding he was at the protest and saw women and children assaulted by counter protesters. 

“Why weren’t the arrests made when it was made in front of police officers?” he asked.

Imperati reminded Llaverias that they had a conversation the day of the protest and he said he was going to turn some footage over, but as of July 6, the legislator had not done so.

Llaverias also asked about the racial composition of the DCSO.

The investigation is ongoing; deputies were asked if they would update the situation in September. Harris agreed, but added the investigation could be over faster if more information, video footage and complaints are forthcoming. 

The Sheriff’s Office has created an e-mail address for reporting police misconduct: InternalAffairsBureau@dutchessny.gov. It is also making a policy that will allow people to make complaints at its Poughkeepsie offices in the future. Anyone with information is asked to contact Capt. Watterson at 845-486-3860.

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