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Syracuse arrest under investigation for use of force

Syracuse Police officers escort Uniyah Chatman, 25, to a police vehicle in Armory Square.

A January 28 arrest in Syracuse’s Armory Square has prompted an investigation into excessive use of force.

During a Monday press conference, the Syracuse Police Department revealed that Uniyah Chatman, 25, was accused of stealing a tip jar from Nick’s Tomato Pie in downtown Syracuse in the early morning of Jan. 28. Some police body cam footage was revealed at the conference and Syracuse Public Information Officer, Matthew Malinowski, said that the footage was chosen to reveal a full picture of the incident.

“These are snippets that we have selected here,” Malinowski said. “Not all the camera footage from the incident — it is still being reviewed. This was done to show a full picture of what took place.”

Syracuse Chief of Police Joe Cecile said that the department began investigating the incident immediately after it occurred per company policy. Cecile added that the department had met with a number of community leaders and Chatman’s mother to discuss the incident prior to the conference.

“We met with local elected officials, faith-based leaders and community leaders to discuss the incident and let them view body-worn footage,” Cecile said. “We also reached out to Uniyah’s mom and offered to let her view the same presentation before it was aired in the media. She was able to do this around noon.”

Cecile also said that there is a need for transparency regarding incidents like this.

“I have said publicly many times, and I will say it again, transparency is our friend,” Cecile said. “The opposite, trying to hide information, is far worse than anything that comes from the transparency of letting information out.”

In light of recent use of force incidents that claimed the life of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Cecile addressed the footage of the incident with Chatman was nothing like that.

“With the recently released of the egregiously disgusting and criminal video footage of the Memphis officers,” Cecile said. “Like everyone else around the nation and the world, I found it very difficult to watch that footage, it was heart-wrenching and sickening … I believe when you watch this video narration you will see, and please make up your own minds here, that there are no similarities to Memphis here.”

The video footage revealed multiple points of view from the officers stationed in Armory Square. Deputy Chief Mark Rusin detailed the videos during the press conference which he said revealed attempts at de-escalation and footage of Chatman spitting on an officer after being held back from leaving the scene.

After the officer was spat on, Chatman was grabbed from the back of her head in an attempt to turn her away from the officer in order to be placed into handcuffs. The video clip shows More officers got involved, a struggle, and police forcibly pinning Chatman to a nearby window, causing her to hit her head on the metal frame outside Nick’s Tomato Pie.

Once Chatman had been placed in handcuffs, officers escorted her to a nearby emergency vehicle. While being escorted, Chatman began kicking her legs and kicked in the window of a parked vehicle. After being placed in the police car, Chatman continued to kick at the doors of the car.

Chatman was taken to be treated for the injuries sustained during the struggle and was issued a sedative by emergency personnel who claimed she was too violent to receive treatment. The video footage revealed a gash on Chatman’s face which she said she had been trying to tell officers about for 20 minutes.

Chatman had admitted to taking the tip jar and expressed that she had been “frustrated” after waiting in line and not being served at the restaurant.

After Rusin completed the narration of the video footage, Cecile said that because the incident was still under investigation the department would not be taking any questions at that time but that he “hoped” there would be an opportunity in the future.

The Syracuse Police Department is asking anyone with video footage of the incident to submit it for the investigation. Anonymous tips and videos can be submitted at https://www.tip411.com/tips/new?alert_group_id=20902.

Abigail is a temporary WRVO News Reporter/Producer working on regional and digital news stories. She graduated from SUNY Oswego in 2022 where she studied English and Public Relations. Abigail enjoys reading, writing, exploring CNY and spending time with family and friends. Abigail first joined the WRVO team as a student reporter in June 2022.