A Rochester police officer broke department rules when he advised a man to break the law and break into the home of his ex-girlfriend. She was later arrested, and the entire incident was caught on a body camera worn by one of the officers.
On Tuesday, Judge Charles Schiano threw out key evidence in the case while the Rochester Police Chief said department rules and procedures were not followed.
“As a result of this incident, we did provide additional training to the officers involved,’ Chief Michael Ciminelli told 13WHAM News.
In a lengthy phone conversation, the ex-boyfriend – who we are not identifying – told reporter Jane Flasch he had ended the five-month relationship the night before.
On November 13, he went to the house on Genesee Park Boulevard to get his belongings. Catherine Bonner had changed the locks and would not open the door so he called police.
With body cameras rolling, Officer Corey McNees says, “If you can break a window glass, it’s cheaper to repair. You can gain entry any way you want; you won’t be held accountable.”
He repeats the advice several times steering the man away from going through a door which was more expensive to repair and even suggesting he use a brick.
The ex-boyfriend repeatedly resists.
“I don’t want to break into the house. I’m not that type of person,” he said.
Several times, he asks for a police report to take the case to small claims court.
On the body cam footage, Officer McNees said, “If you stay away for a certain amount of time we’ll consider it you no longer live here. You can’t come three weeks from now and say I live here and break the door in.”
Bonner’s attorney said, inside the house, his client heard every word.
“She was scared. Who’s she going to call if the police are telling someone to break in?” said David Pilato. “It’s not like she can call 911 and get the police there – they’re already there.”
Chief Michael Ciminelli said this is not part of officer training.
“Standing by and encouraging or permitting someone to forcibly enter when the other party is in the house is not something that was part of our training or protocol,” he said.
He added that all officers were issued a police bulletin after this incident. Judge Schiano ruled the officer’s advice was not legally correct.
“As far as this court can determine (it is) without actual basis in law,” he wrote in a 14 page decision.
After 23 minutes, the ex-boyfriend took the officer’s advice and used a shoe to break a window. Bonner is accused of sticking a 9mm rifle through the broken glass. She was charged with weapons possession and menacing a police officer. But Schiano’s ruling shatters much of the case.
He said officers had seized the gun in an illegal search after storming the house and gaining control of the situation. Once there was no longer a threat, they needed a warrant to conduct a search for evidence. The weapon and statements Bonner made while handcuffed cannot be used against her which drops the weapons possession charge.
The menacing charge remains, but may be difficult to prove. Prosecutor Michael Bezer says the alleged menacing happened before the search and can still stand.
Bonner appeared shaky and tearful in court.
“She hasn’t slept, she’s emotional all the time,” her attorney said.
Yet Pilato backed off earlier claims she had been a victim of a domestic violence attack the night before this incident. He now says the “facts are in dispute” and says she is not a victim. The ex-boyfriend said he was the one pursued physically and as a result Bonner broke her foot.
The case returns to court June 4th.