Criminal cases against Le Roy man, including 'shots fired' case, hinge on missing video evidence
A 45-year-old Le Roy man facing felony charges from a "shots fired" incident on Clinton Street Road a year ago, and facing other felony charges, turned down a plea offer today that could help him avoid the potential of a life-in-prison sentence.
That decision made a little more sense during a hearing that followed the plea offer discussion on a grand larceny charge from a separate incident.
In that case, a video that reportedly shows Arthur J. Brown taking a credit card from inside a police station wasn't preserved by Le Roy PD.
Judge Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini ordered a spoliation hearing -- a hearing to determine what happened to the evidence -- to be followed by a Huntley hearing -- a hearing on whether evidence should be suppressed at trial.
Without the video, the only evidence against Brown in the grand larceny case is the testimony of a police officer who reviewed the video recording prior to arresting Brown on the charge. Under the rules of evidence, the officer can testify about what he saw on the recording.
By calling for a spoliation hearing -- something the defense did not request -- Cianfrini signaled that she might consider a strong sanction against the prosecution, which could include dismissing the case.
When asked about a possible remedy, First Assistant District Attorney Joseph Robinson said it would be appropriate to permit the jury to draw an "adverse inference" from the fact the video does not exist. That would mean at trial, the jury could consider that the lack of a recording means there is a weakness in the prosecution's case.
Robinson said that remedy would be significant because there is only one police officer who can testify in the case and state what he saw on the video. There is no other supporting evidence.
On Aug. 11, 2021, Brown was picked up by Le Roy PD on a violation-level offense, said Assistant Public Defender Lisa Kroemer, and placed in an interview room where he was required to empty his pockets.
When he was released, he was instructed to take his personal belongings.
Later, a police officer discovered that a credit card was missing. The card had been found by somebody and left with the police. It was being held for safekeeping until its rightful owner could pick it up.
The missing video supposedly shows Brown picking up the card along with his property.
Kroemer argued that the video is a critical piece of evidence that could show whether Brown knowingly and intentionally took the card or whether he picked it up accidentally, a distinction, she said, the officer can't reliably testify about.
When questioned later, Brown did have the card in his possession, Kroemer conceded, but the issue that can't be resolved without the video is whether Brown knowingly took the card from the police station.
Kroemer said Brown was held for a bail hearing less than 24 hours after his arrest and Kroemer put the District Attorney's Office on notice at the hearing that the video recording needed to be preserved as evidence. She also argued that police officers should know that such a piece of evidence should be preserved.
Later, Cianfrini would note that Kroemer made a compelling argument that members of law enforcement, more than a store owner or any other member of the public, should understand the importance of preserving evidence.
In ordering a spoliation hearing, Cianfrini said the court is interested in hearing what protocols Le Roy PD has in place for preserving video evidence, what happened in this case, what was communicated to police, and how it was communicated, about preserving the recording, and what if anything is the police department doing to ensure this doesn't happen again.
The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 14.
Brown is also facing multiple charges from a Sept. 19, 2021 incident in which Brown was stopped on Clinton Street Road in Stafford for alleged erratic driving and once stopped, fled from law enforcement into a cornfield.
A deputy said he saw a gun on Brown and a second later, there was a bang or a boom in the area that prompted the officer to inform dispatchers of "shots fired."
The search for Brown took several hours and involved Monroe County SWAT, the Batavia Emergency Response Team, State Police (including the closure of the Thruway), drones and a State Police helicopter.
Law enforcement reported recovering a handgun at the scene, but Brown has maintained it wasn't his.
It turned out later, that what sounded like possible gunshots was really a wildlife scare cannon.
In that incident, Brown was charged with:
- Criminal possession of a weapon 2nd
- Menacing a police officer
- Tampering with physical evidence
- Obstruction of governmental administration 2nd
- Criminal possession of a controlled substance 7th
- Driving while impaired by drugs
- Failure to keep right
Brown is also facing a charge of failure to register as a sex offender but he hasn't been indicted on that count yet.
The plea offer from the District Attorney's Office was for Brown to plead guilty to the weapons charge and the grand larceny, and serve five years in prison with seven years on parole, and the rest of the charges would be satisfied.
Brown would still have been subject to being found by the court to be a second felony offender, a second violent felony offender, and a persistent felony offender.
After Robinson recited the plea offer, Kroemer said her client was rejecting the offer.
Cianfrini then wanted to ensure that Brown understood the ramifications and risks of his decision. As she spoke, Brown raised his hand as if he wanted to speak and Cianfrini advised him that he shouldn't speak to the court and instead talk privately with his attorney and let her speak on his behalf.
Kroemer and Brown then conferred, but Brown was speaking loud enough that some of what he was saying could be heard in the courtroom. Cianfrini told him he should whisper so she couldn't hear what he was saying.
After Kroemer and Brown spoke, Cianfrini asked Brown if he still wished to decline the deal. He said that he did.
She explained to him that if he was found guilty at trial, he could be sentenced to the maximum prison term for each count, that the sentences could be served consecutively instead of concurrently, and that if the court found him to be a persistent felony offender, he could be sent to prison for life.
"My job is to ensure that I feel satisfied that you understand," Cianfrini said. "Whether you take the plea is 100 percent your decision. I just want to make sure you understand."
Brown, who spoke clearly in court, said he understood.
On the weapons charge, the court set a trial date for March 20 to March 24, with a Jan. 23 plea cutoff date.
Cianfrini explained to Brown that while the plea offer he just rejected was off the table, the prosecution had the option of making a new offer and Jan. 23 would be the final date Brown would have to accept a plea offer, otherwise the case would go to trial.
There will be a Huntley hearing, a hearing on the possible suppression of evidence, at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 11.
Brown is not being held in jail while the charges against him are pending.