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Black man risks life to clear his name, sets off new way to police the police

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Silvon "Tugg" Simmons was handcuffed to his hospital bed after he was shot in his backyard by Officer Joseph Ferrigno. Photo by Harold Rush Lee. | Facebook.com

After refusing a plea deal, Silvon “Tugg” Simmons, 36, a Black family man from Rochester, New York, sits in a courthouse and risks a sentence for life in prison to share his truth, empowering the citizens to create a strong review board that could become a national model for policing the American police.

The backstory of the Simmons shooting

On April 1, 2016, Simmons was shot in his own backyard in upstate New York City. Eighteen months later, he sits in court, awaiting the jury’s decision on four different charges. This was after he was accused of trying to kill the white cop—Joseph Ferrigno—who planted three bullets in his back, buttocks, and thighs.

Numerous records and trial transcripts said 33-year-old officer Ferrigno spotted and trailed the Chevrolet Impala that Simmons and a Black neighbor was driving. This continued until they back into the driveway of Simmons’ house. A shootout ensued, ending with Simmons bleeding in his own backyard. A few feet away, they found a discarded 9mm Ruger. On the scene were two cops—Ferrigno and Sam Giancursio—crying murder.

Ferrigno’s account says that he had been on the lookout for “like a silver grayish Chevy Impala.” A Black man who reportedly threatened a woman with a gun drives the same model. Believing that he was following the gunman, he trailed it until it was parked, pulled up the squad car he was driving in front of the driveway, drew his Glock handgun, and “commanded both occupants to stay in the vehicle.”

Simmons, on the other hand, said that he heard no such order, and upon seeing an approaching silhouette waving a gun, he jumped out of the passenger seat and run for the back door of his house.

The account of what followed started to blur at this point. There were at least two stories. Ferrigno says he saw a “white flash” and believed that Simmons shot at him, so he fired back. His story was backed by the second officer on-site—Giancursio—who “felt” a bullet whiz close to his head. The other “untold” version was, Simmons did not own nor fire a gun at all.

The jury trial and considerations

Reports shared that two internal investigators questioned Ferrigno. It was in the presence of a Locust Club union representative. What they didn’t reveal was the internal investigators were fellow Locust Club members. They “cleared” Ferrigno, who later became one of the department’s officers of the month.

Later the investigators revealed that they knew Simmons was not the “wanted” man. It wasn’t the driver either. They also revealed that Simmons repeatedly asked to be tested for gunpowder residue on his hands and clothes and was ignored.

On October 26, 2017, the trial resulted in a “not guilty” verdict for three of Simmons’s charges. These were for attempted aggravated murder, attempted aggravated assault of a police officer, and criminal possession of a weapon with the intent to use it unlawfully. To Simmon’s horror, however, the jury ruled “guilty” for criminal possession of a weapon not in the home or place of business.

Surprising turnaround

Fast-forward to January 11, 2018. Much to everyone’s surprise, Judge Christopher Ciaccio made a dramatic ruling in his Rochester courtroom on Silvon Simmons’ sentencing. His ruling: the gun possession conviction by the jury was a mistake.

Ciaccio cited the flawed ShotSpotter evidence and the jury’s “nearly complete rejection” of the officers’ story. Then, he set aside the conviction and corrected a “fundamental error.”

He said the jury’s earlier verdict “reflected a determination that the defendant did not point his gun at Ferrigno and fire it. No bullet whizzed by Giancursio’s head.”

Policing the police

Simmon’s trial, along with Ciaccio’s ruling, spawned Rochester, New York, city council. The council started mounting their strongest drive to create a non-police review board to investigate and discipline the police.

Simmons’s trial revealed the extraordinary freedom U.S. police officers under the protection of their unions. Coupled with the inherent human nature to protect one of their own, the conflicts of interest were clear—the aftermath: Rochester city council claws back some control and created a new citizen Police Accountability Board.

At the urging of community groups, the city council of Rochester unanimously agreed on a referendum. This will create the most powerful civilian oversight body for the US police force.

If it succeeds, it will set “a precedent for the rest of the country,” says chairwoman Shani Wilson of the new board.

Always on the lookout for fun stuff to try, and great lifestyle stories to share. Writing about life and beauty since 2015.

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