Cold Spring Officer Resigns

Residents raised concerns about 2012 shooting

A Cold Spring police officer who was the supervisor at the scene of a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in New York City in 2012 said this week he would resign following calls from community members that he be fired.

Mayor Dave Merandy said that Officer Scott Morris, who was hired by the village in December to join its force of about a dozen part-time officers, told him in a phone call on Tuesday (June 9) that he planned to quit. Merandy said he and other Village Board members received a “bombardment” of emails this week questioning the hire. 

In February 2012, Morris was the sergeant of a New York Police Department narcotics team when two officers followed Ramarley Graham, 18, to his Bronx apartment on suspicion that he had been involved in a drug deal. 

According to news reports, Morris was sitting in an unmarked squad car a few blocks away. When told by the officers via police radio that Graham may have a gun, Morris asked them to confirm it. The officers soon responded they were certain Graham was armed. 

Soon after, one officer kicked down the door to Graham’s apartment, and the other, Richard Haste, confronted Graham in the bathroom and shot him once in the chest. No weapon was found. Officers found marijuana in the toilet.

Haste was indicted on manslaughter charges, but a judge threw out the case, ruling that the prosecutor had given improper instructions to the grand jury. A second grand jury declined to indict Haste, who left the department in 2017. The officer said he thought Graham was attacking him; an NYPD review reprimanded the officers who entered the apartment for showing “bad tactical judgment” but found the killing “legally justified.”

Neither Morris nor the officer who kicked down the door were charged, but Morris faced departmental reprimands for “failure to notify police communications” and “failure to supervise members during a police incident.” In late 2017 he agreed to a 30-day suspension without pay and resigned from the force. 

At the time, the NYPD declined media requests for the officers’ disciplinary records, citing Section 50-a of state civil rights law — a provision that the Assembly and Senate this week voted to overturn. Morris did not respond to a request for comment sent through Larry Burke, the officer-in-charge of the Cold Spring Police Department.

The controversy over the officer developed quickly over the past week. After the June 2 Village Board meeting, at which the use of the thin-blue-line flag on Cold Spring police vehicles was discussed (see below), The Current received comments questioning the hiring of Morris and drawing attention to the 2012 killing. (The Current was not aware of the incident when we reported in December that Morris had been hired.) Last weekend, flyers were handed out in the village encouraging residents to email Merandy to voice their concerns. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Merandy defended the hire, which was approved by a unanimous vote of the board. 

Morris “provided all the information upfront regarding the incident,” the mayor said. “We knew everything. We did our research and background checks. We felt he wasn’t on the scene; that was one of the biggest things in our decision.”

Merandy complained that the flyers that were distributed “were taken as gospel” and led to a “kind of mob mentality.”

“That’s something we’re actually trying to fight,” he said. “The cause of stuff like this is people not really doing things rationally. “

Merandy said he addressed the issue with Burke and Tom Ciero, the president of the Cold Spring Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents officers, before speaking with Morris on Tuesday. The Village Board met in executive session before its meeting and agreed to accept Morris’ resignation.

“I do feel it’s unfortunate,” Merandy said. “We have mixed feelings about accepting his resignation. Unfortunately, in today’s environment, where we’re going, I don’t feel there is any way he can stay on.” Merandy said that, during the officer’s time with the department, “everyone was pleased with his performance.”

On Wednesday (June 10), Trustee Fran Murphy told The Current that, like Merandy, she feels there was a “mob psychology” behind the campaign. She noted at least one email referred to Morris as “a murderer.”

Murphy also took exception to a comment at Tuesday’s meeting by village resident Tara Vamos, who thanked high school and college students for their participation in the email campaign.

“I thought high school and college kids are trained to do research,” Murphy said. “It’s not just doing a Google search and picking up The New York Post.”

“We did our due diligence” before the hire, Murphy added. “We spent a lot of time and energy researching him,” including reading the NYPD report.

Murphy still questions her decision to accept Morris’s resignation. “I wanted to have the guts not to do that, to keep him on,” she said. Refusing his resignation was discussed, she said, “but we could not find a way that was not going to be detrimental to the village.” 

Murphy said the safety of village residents was a concern. There was fear that in the current climate, if Morris did not resign, protests would escalate. “What we did was wrong for him, but right for the village,” she said. 

Cold Spring resident Cassie Traina was among those who encouraged people to contact Merandy, and an email she wrote was the basis for many of the messages sent to the mayor. She disagreed with assertions that the effort was not based on research.

“This matter was researched thoroughly; I take this matter very seriously,” she said. “Letter-writing campaigns have been an important part of getting elected officials’ attention for decades at all levels of government.”

Traina said organizers were trying to force a response. “We wanted action,” she said, while also acknowledging “there has been pushback.”

Trustee Steve Voloto said he found comments on social media critical of the board for hiring Morris to be disturbing. “They assume the worst; that we’re either not doing a good job or we’re somehow racist in our actions,” he said. “They question how we could let someone who had ‘murdered someone’ become a [Cold Spring] police officer, when that is not the facts of the case.” 

Morris was not charged with a crime, Voloto noted, nor was he implicated during the prosecution of the officer who fired the shot. “Haste didn’t say Morris told him to kick that door down and get that guy,” Voloto said. “He did it all on his own.”

Voloto said he feels Morris was not treated fairly by the NYPD, and that “he’s being treated in a similar way now in this village by the people who think he killed people. But he didn’t. Someone who was under his charge didn’t follow procedure.”

At the same time, Voloto said he understands the anger about Graham’s death. “People have the right to be in their homes,” Voloto said. “We have rules about that. You can’t just kick somebody’s door down and shoot them.

“The people who are getting mad at Scott Morris have a right to be mad; the police are like an occupying force,” Voloto said. “It’s not right. I’m very concerned about what’s going on in our country.” 

Trustee Lynn Miller also was critical of how some residents responded. 

“I’m willing to bet that few, if any, of the people now targeting Scott Morris have ever bothered to talk with him about the Graham incident or anything else,” she told The Current. “Some people, in their zeal to effect legitimately needed reform to our national justice system, have misdirected their efforts and heaped injustice on a good man who has served our village well. However well-intentioned they may be, their blindness to their own prejudice is astounding.”

Decals removed

After hearing complaints from residents at the June 2 meeting of the Village Board, Burke this week removed thin-blue-line flag decals from the police department’s squad cars.

The decals, which had been applied about a year ago, were popularized by Blue Lives Matter, a national campaign created in reaction to Black Lives Matter. The symbol has more recently been appropriated by white supremacists. 

thin-blue-line flag

The thin-blue-line flag

Burke said the decals were intended to honor police officers killed in the line of duty, and that he would remove them only if ordered to so by the Village Board, which planned to continue the discussion at its June 9 meeting. But in the meantime, Merandy said he spoke with Burke and Ciero and they agreed to remove the decals.

Ciero said he was “disappointed that what was meant as a tribute was used as a weapon to hurt people by [racist] groups that no one wants or supports.”

Village reopening

One Way Foot Traffic

Cold Spring this week applied sidewalk signs to encourage social distancing by directing pedestrians to walk east on one side of Main Street and west on the other. (Photo by Teresa Lagerman)

The Mid-Hudson Region on Tuesday (June 9) entered Phase 2 of the state’s planned reopening, and Merandy reported a number of related developments:

■ Dockside Park, Riverfront Park and Mayor’s Park will now be open on weekends, although the Tots Park remains closed.

■ Restaurant owners wanting to use sidewalks for outdoor dining should contact the village clerk.

■ Retail shops can admit customers while adhering to state guidelines.

The placement of sandwich-board signs and merchandise on Main Street sidewalks is prohibited.

■ One-way pedestrian traffic arrows have been painted on Main Street sidewalks.

In addition, the board declined a request by the organizer of the Putnam County Wine & Food Fest to hold the two-day event over Labor Day weekend. It had been scheduled for mid-August but the board last month canceled all events at Mayor’s Park until at least Aug. 31. The board said it would reassess its policy on large events in mid-July, including Community Day, which is scheduled for Sept. 6.

In other business …

Cold Spring police officers responded to 61 calls for service in May and issued 18 parking and six traffic tickets. Two arrests were made, both for trespassing. The Cold Spring Fire Co. responded to six alarms. 

■ Miller said she is investigating the possibility of establishing a human rights commission. 

■ Village boards and committees have begun meeting by video conference.

22 thoughts on “Cold Spring Officer Resigns

  1. Too often we hear the phrase “an unarmed black man.” Ramarley Graham was an 18-year-old kid who was shot in his own home in the presence of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother. He did not have a weapon and there was no weapon in the home. I look around at all the excitement over the Haldane Class of 2020 and I hope that when people think of Ramarley they remember how much of his life he should’ve had ahead of him.

    I also disagree with the characterization of residents who raised concerns as simply participating in a “mob mentality” or not “doing research.” It was very easy to find out about Scott Morris’s role as it was covered widely in the news. Though Scott Morris did not pull the trigger, he was the sergeant in charge at the time and had power over Officer Richard Haste. What this country is talking about is systemic racism. Most of us are complicit, and it’s well within our rights as citizens to want to change that. We should be grateful Cassie Traina and other residents are leading the way.

    I don’t, however, think it’s fair to heap blame on the Village Board. They are our elected officials. Any of us could have had a say if we had been paying closer attention when Scott Morris had been hired. The same goes for the Blue Lives Matter flag. It had been bothering many of us for months, but we did not speak up until Black Lives Matter gave us the courage. It should not be that way, especially for the many of us who are steeped in white privilege. Let this serve as a reminder of the importance of civic engagement on a local level.

  2. The answer is simple and has been discussed for many years- Abolish the Cold Spring Police Department.

    The reason I say this has nothing to do with the current controversy, Black Lives Matter, Antifa or anything to do with politics, but rather because it is a taxpayer issue. The Village of Cold Spring has its own costly police department, which takes up a substantial portion of its budget.

    Meanwhile, the Town of Philipstown wisely does not have its own PD because it is well-patrolled by the Sheriff and the State Police. Since Cold Spring is also taken care of by these two well-equipped police forces, can anyone tell me why the powers that be feel they need a third police department? The Sheriff has a substation on Main Street near Nelsonville and has regular patrols in Cold Spring and the rest of Philipstown, along with the troopers.

    As far as I know, the Village is not a criminal hot spot that warrants three separate taxpayer funded police forces. Getting rid of the CSPD seems like a no-brainer at this point.

    P.S.: Putnam Valley abolished its police department years ago for the same reason: No need to pay for three police forces. We have saved many millions of dollars by doing so and we are still well protected by two highly professional police agencies.

  3. I have always been amused and appalled by the hypocrisy of those decrying “white privilege.”

    When I lived in Brooklyn in a very mixed neighborhood, the most “liberal” of people I knew lived on all-white Staten Island. And so it is today be it Chappaqua, Garrison or Cold Spring.

    As for my “white privilege,” it has been disturbed over the years by the majority of my white relatives being sent to concentration camps. No longer being able to pay them a visit in the Netherlands, I went to Auschwitz instead. They were preceded in 1647 by our cousin, Isaac De Castro Tartas, who was burned at the stake in Lisbon.

    My greatest and only privilege, is being a citizen of the United States of America.

    • White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced hardships. It means that the hardships you suffered aren’t because of the color of your skin. You can walk around every day without being discriminated against in small and big ways. Many Jewish people are able to blend in as being simply “white,” which is why the Nazis made them wear yellow stars.

      I’m also of Jewish descent and lost significant family in the Holocaust. Their memory fuels my desire to speak up for others, and I know my grandfather would be proud of me.

      “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
      Because I was not a socialist.
      Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
      Because I was not a trade unionist.
      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
      Because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

      • Good for You Heidi. It deserves repeating until it sinks in.

        “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
        Because I was not a socialist.
        Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
        Because I was not a trade unionist.
        Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
        Because I was not a Jew.”

    • Mob mentality? Are you sure you understand the implications? Because if you do, you just offended the majority of Cold Spring residents. Times, they are a changin’ — we simply got the chance to say it loud and clear. And to the Highlands Current — the information about the fired NYPD officer was widely available on the web. I checked it in January. Doh.

  4. The community rush to judgment was the problem. That’s what people mean by mob mentality. People could’ve asked for an emergency meeting to find out details, but it wasn’t a request to be heard, it was a demand to fire him now, and that demand spread like wildfire.

    Patience and humility go into good decision-making. But these virtues were nowhere to be found. In their place we had pride, rage, and self-righteousness.

    People wanted justice. Justice and self-righteousness can barely be in the same room together. Justice requires truth. Self-righteousness doesn’t care about truth, it needs validation. It wants action. It wants victory. It delivers injustice. The rush to judgment gives us wrongful convictions, death-row overflow, and innocents dying in the street. Self-righteousness is one of humanity’s least attractive traits and it cares nothing about justice.

    Haldane’s magnificent high school drama program put up The Crucible not long ago. What was Arthur Miller telling us? Those lessons apply here, now, today, in moments of extreme fear and confusion, as much as they did in his dramatic world of Salem, as much as they did in Miller’s real world of the McCarthy hearings, when he wrote the thing. Because right and wrong do not change with the times or the tide, no matter how much that tide scares us.

  5. There is a tendency to see group action as “mob mentality,” but the truth is that enough people saw the hiring of Scott Morris as a problem and used our constitutional right to protest it and reach out to elected officials on this issue.

    It’s also easy to see an action that was this swift and effective as rushed, but I can assure you this took detailed planning, research and time to put this together. Additionally, several attempts were made to reach out to the mayor and members of the Cold Spring Police Department directly to collaborate but none of those calls or emails were answered, even today. I would still like to speak directly with elected officials and find a way, going forward, the community can work together to make sure we are all comfortable with decisions happening in town and decrease any lingering hostility.

    I think it is time to look at what we can do next to ensure every citizen and elected official feels connected. That is why a group called Cold Spring Community Action (CSCA) has been formed. We hope it can be a hub for members of the community to openly discuss town issues, politics, community concerns and more.

    On its website, CSCA has created a blog and a public forum. I encourage anyone who has any information, beliefs or wants to start a new conversation to go there. No one has to share the same beliefs or views of even this particular topic to engage in an honest and open discussion. We’re a strong and beautiful town and I’m sure it is everyone’s goal to continue to make it better.

  6. In reading this article and the comments relating to the hiring and resignation of Cold Spring Police Officer Scott Morris, I found myself re-reading these words in Cassandra Traina’s comment: “several attempts were made to reach out to the mayor and members of the Cold Spring Police Department directly to collaborate but none of those calls or emails were answered.” It feels important to lift out those words and acknowledge this initial experience of silence. “Several attempts were made to reach out” “to collaborate” “none of those calls or emails were answered.” For me, this story starts here. With the silence.

    When a predictably charged letter-writing campaign followed, the Cold Spring Village Board finally did break its silence with words that reflected the board’s own highly charged and defensive emotional state: “mob mentality”, “a bombardment”, “mob psychology”, “not doing things rationally”, “blindness”, “prejudice”. This moment called for a different response from the Village Board: not silence and not lashing out. It called for a moment of humility to ask the question: what are we not seeing here that so many residents are seeing?

    Here’s what I see. According to the U.S. Census, Cold Spring is approximately 90 percent white and only one half of one percentage black or African American. Our area has a history of Ku Klux Klan activity. To hire into this community a former NYPD officer with some adjudicated level of culpability for the killing of an unarmed black teenager is at the very least tone deaf. To ignore the community’s initial requests for communication and to then bristle at the tone of the community’s subsequent response is where the real problem lies. It is a problematic pattern both in this situation and nationally.

  7. Ramarley Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, has become an activist working on police brutality issues. She could be asked why her family wanted Officer Morris to be dismissed. The NYPD isn’t typically easily persuaded to ask officers to take early retirement.

    If Morris was asked to resign by the NYPD based on his leadership of a team that killed an unarmed man, he should not be serving as a police officer. The Cold Spring Village Board is not obligated to agree with people who email them. Personally, I am glad that Morris has stepped down. Finding a new career is difficult but possible. There is nothing Graham’s family can do to bring him back, and there should be consequences for that.

    I would add that I have been to multiple Village Board meetings and I admire every member of the board for the patience and attention to detail that they usually apply to the myriad issues that come before them. [via Facebook]

  8. If I were head chef at an event-planning company and, because of my negligence, a wedding party came down with food poisoning and someone died, would you be stoked that I became the chef at the retirement home your children just sent you to? It’s like that, but with guns and intent. [via Facebook]

  9. Being a police officer is a privilege you earn, not a right of fraternity. If any of us are involved in a giant failure at our jobs, we get terminated. Why should it be different for police officers? That accountability, not a 30-day suspension, is essential to the amazing changes we are beginning to see. [via Facebook]

  10. I’m sure Officer Morris will get a position with another police department. [via Facebook]

  11. All it takes in this village is one person who thinks he or she knows the story, and before you know it, everyone thinks they know the story, with none of them ever realizing they are all wrong. [via Facebook]

  12. Imagine if elected officials were as upset and vocal about black people being killed and otherwise profiled by police as they are about this removal campaign. Racial inequity needs to be combated everywhere, including Cold Spring. [via Facebook]

  13. I pray the people making these judgments against Officer Morris come up against something in their past one day. Judge not least ye be judged. [via Facebook]

  14. I hope Officer Morris sues anyone who came before the Village Board with this issue. Win or lose, give them a taste of their own medicine. [via Facebook]

  15. Unfortunately, this lovely village has been taken over by liberal newcomers who think they know what is best for everyone. [via Facebook]

  16. What happened to George Floyd was terrible, and no halfway decent person doesn’t see it that way. But it wasn’t typical. It seems typical because the media informs us every time a white cop kills an unarmed black man, but it doesn’t happen that often, and it’s usually justified (but not always). In 2019, 28 unarmed men were killed by police; nine were black. Most people killed by police are killed by black or Hispanic cops.

    Before you call me a racist for sharing what the media won’t tell you, let me say that George Floyd’s murder was brutal and depraved and must be answered. But his death isn’t the right reason for the anger. We can use the term systemic racism, but I see systemic poverty. Democrats have been telling black people for decades that conservative policies keep them in poverty. But Democrats have run our major cities for decades, where the children of poor black people attend failing schools.

    I used to be a very liberal Democrat, but I saw the harm done by liberal policies intended to help poor minorities. The pro-tests over George Floyd’s death are justified, but the anger you see is directed at the wrong institution. Liberals who kneel with the protestors perpetuate the myth that white cops are hunting down black men. The truth is, these men, women and children are victims not of white, racist cops, but liberal policies. [via Facebook]

    • The news media — local, state, national — reports every killing by a police officer, but there isn’t usually a video that contradicts the official version, and the response isn’t always the same. According to a database compiled by The Washington Post, there were 5,408 fatal shootings by police in the U.S. from 2015 to date (which would not include cases such as that of Eric Garner or George Floyd). It found that 352 of the deaths involved a person who was unarmed, and 123 of those unarmed people were black. (In New York state, there were 101 killings; four of those killed were unarmed, and three of those unarmed people were black.) In 2019, 55 unarmed people were shot and killed by police nationwide, including 14 black people. There is no definitive study I could find of the race of officers involved.

  17. Our tax dollars would be better spent on more mental-health workers, social workers, addiction counselors, emergency medical technicians and crisis counselors than on poorly trained police with surplus military equipment. [via Facebook]

  18. This is extremely sad. This officer was not guilty of a crime but had to resign because of ridiculous and irrational citizens. I wish he had instead consulted an attorney. People will push to get away with as much as they can until you push back. [via Facebook]