In the summer of 2019, two disturbing events shook the Geneva community and illuminated serious problems within the Geneva Police Department.
In the span of 10 days, the GPD faced criticism for failing to conduct a serious investigation into racist and anti-Semetic graffiti on a private shed in full view of a public downtown parking lot, and then for the arrest and undercharging of a recently-demoted police officer who strangled a woman unconscious at the police station.
Immediately following the first incident and continuing through the second, city officials began an aggressive public relations campaign with two apparent goals:
- To convince the public that both incidents were handled to near-perfection by the Geneva Police Department.
- To discredit and condemn any residents who are critical of the police department’s handling of the incidents.
When some residents criticized the GPD’s response to the graffiti incidents, Councilor-At-Large Mark Gramling gave a statement equating those residents with members of hate groups, accusing them of “mimicking” “those who perpetuate hatred” and causing a “divide.”
Ward 4 Councilor Ken Camera commented on the arrest of the Geneva cop by urging the public to “follow the established news media sources, rather than Facebook or other types of media,” and to view all other news sources (like Geneva Believer) “with suspicion.”
City officials desperately wish to convince the people of Geneva that the Police Department did nothing wrong when they found a swastika and the phrase “white power” spray painted onto a downtown shed next to a public parking lot, and then waited 45 days until more racist graffiti was found on a church to issue a press release and ask the public for help with the investigation.
And city officials also desperately wish to convince the people of Geneva that the Police Department did everything right after an officer with a troubled history choked a woman unconscious (a felony charge) inside the police station, and then was only charged with a simple misdemeanor.
By omitting certain facts, emphasizing other facts, and smearing residents, City Council and the Community Compact are working in unison to manipulate the way residents think by telling them what they should read and who they should believe when it comes to policing in Geneva.
Manipulation Through Omission: The 45 Day Delay
On June 6th 2019, a swastika and the phrase “white power” were found spray painted onto a privately-owned storage shed adjacent to public parking lot owned by the City of Geneva. The Geneva Police responded to the scene, but did not issue a press release or ask to public for information that might assist the investigation.
Six days later, a reader-submitted photo of the graffiti was published in the print version of the Finger Lakes Times and an investigation into the incident was confirmed by Lt. Matt Valenti. But Valenti didn’t ask the public for assistance and no contact information for tipsters was included.
On July 21st, Geneva Believer broke the story that a second racist and anti-Semetic graffiti incident had occurred in downtown Geneva. This time, a spray painted swastika was discovered sometime around July 18th on the outside wall of Mt. Calvary Church of God in Christ on Milton Street. The article also noted that the Geneva Police still had not asked the public for help in solving either case.
Then, on Monday July 22nd, a media blitz was initiated by GPD Chief Mike Passalacqua, who issued a press release and granted numerous interviews with regional television, radio and print media outlets to announce that the GPD were asking for the public’s help in solving the two racist graffiti incidents.
45 days had passed since a swastika and the phrase “white power” were discovered spray painted on a shed next to a downtown parking lot, and now the Geneva Police Department were finally going to the media and asking the public for information related to the June 6th racist incident.
But throughout numerous subsequent interviews over several days, Passalacqua didn’t offer any explanation for the 45 day delay.
- On the next day, July 23rd, Passalacqua and City Councilor Mark Gramling gave statements to the Finger Lakes Times, but neither the chief nor the councilor offered any explanation for the 45 day delay.
- On the next day, July 24th, a third graffiti incident was discovered, Passalacqua gave more public statements, but did not offer any explanation for the 45 day delay.
- Two days later, on July 26th, the Geneva Police Department announced that they had arrested and charged a 12-year old girl in the graffiti spree, but still, no one offered any explanation for the 45 day delay.
Why Is The 45 Day Delay So Important?
- In 2011, and again in 2016, the United States Department of Justice sent a representative to Geneva to help explore ways to address serious issues between the police department and members of the African American and Latino communities. There are issues between the police and community in Geneva that have been acknowledged by the federal justice system.
- The Geneva Police Department has participated in numerous community dialogues and costly trainings to address these policing issues over the past three years. These trainings, and new policies that have been adopted, will likely cost city taxpayers more than $250,000 by the year 2023.
- In late summer of 2017, a GPD officer was suspended for posting racist images on social media, igniting a public firestorm and prompting declarations by city officials that racism would not be tolerated in our community. The officer was placed on paid leave and continued to receive his full salary of more than $80,000 through the spring of 2019.
After years of questions, trainings, outreach, and public cases of police misconduct, Passalacqua and the GPD should be acutely aware of these significant problems related to policing in our community.
And when hateful, racist graffiti shows up in downtown Geneva, residents should expect that the police department will act swiftly and resolutely to investigate and solve the case.
Instead, the police apparently didn’t take the crime seriously, waited 45 days, gathering zero leads in the “investigation,” until they were finally forced to go public when a second instance of graffiti was found on a church.
Finally, on July 28, 2019, Passalacqua offered an explanation for the 45 day delay in an interview with the Finger Lakes Times.
“When we got the second report, at the church, I decided to put out a statement if this was going to become a habitual thing instead of isolated,” he said. “I didn’t really know what we were dealing with.”
– Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua
So, rather than recognize that the incident was an egregious, disgusting and unacceptable act of hatred against our community that should be dealt with immediately and decisively, Passalacqua instead assumed it was an “isolated” event and decided not to issue any public statements about it, effectively covering it up.
Passalacqua’s statement also implies that if the second incident of graffiti hadn’t been found, the first incident would never have been publicized or sufficiently investigated.
And it would have been forgotten.
This is not how a forward-thinking and transparent police department operates when incidents of racist vandalism strikes their community.
- In March 2017, racist graffiti hit Phoenix AZ, and the next day, the police began asking for the public’s help with the investigation.
- In March 2019, racist graffiti hit Bennington VT, and the next day, the police began asking for the public’s help with the investigation.
- In August 2019, racist graffiti hit Brighton NY, and the next day, the police began asking for the public’s help with the investigation.
- In June 2019, racist graffiti hit Geneva NY, and 45 days later, the police began asking for the public’s help with the investigation because they assumed it was an “isolated” incident.
Once an arrest was made on July 26th in the Geneva graffiti case, an aggressive and manipulative public relations campaign was initiated by the City of Geneva to protect the police from scrutiny.
Gramling Again Takes The Lead In Defending GPD And Attacking GPD Critics
On July 23rd, when the Governor of New York assigned the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to assist with the racist graffiti incident, Passalacqua offered a strangely defensive response to the Finger Lakes Times:
“We were just asked yesterday if there was anything they (the Task Force) could do. I don’t even know what they can offer at this point,” Passalacqua said. “It remains to be seen if they can do anything we aren’t doing already.”
Rather than expressing gratitude for receiving more resources from the state to help solve a hate crime in our city, Passalacqua instead responded by saying “I don’t know what they can offer at this point” and questioning whether help from the state was even worthwhile.
This is NOT the way a humble, conscientious and progressive police chief responds to such a situation.
When the Geneva Police Department announced an arrest in the racist graffiti case on July 26th, a Geneva Believer article pointed out the fact that GPD failed to properly investigate for 45 days, and only solved the case when the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force became involved.
“After six and a half weeks, the Geneva Police Department were unable to generate any leads on a series of racist graffiti incidents that were first discovered on June 6th.
Within two days of the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force being assigned to the case, an arrest has been made.”
Within hours, City Councilor-At-Large Mark Gramling, a fervent defender of the Police Department with a history of attacking critics of the police, issued the following statement on his Facebook page.
Gramling did not begin his statement by expressing satisfaction or gratitude that an arrest had been made in the case.
Instead, Gramling opened his statement by trying to “dispel any possible misinformation” by insisting that the GPD solved the case without any help from the State Police and only “minimal assistance” from the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office.
Of course, Gramling’s immediate instinct to defend the police and insinuate that “misinformation” about the case was being spread should not be a surprise to residents who follow issues of police misconduct in the city. Gramling has not only repeatedly defended the ineffective and non-transparent Community Compact from criticism, he has openly attacked residents who criticized him for actively campaigning to protect the previous chief of police from being held accountable for lying and attempting to steal money from the taxpayers.
Then, in a Finger Lakes Times interview on July 28, two days after Gramling wrote a Facebook post letting everyone know that the GPD solved the crime all by themselves, Passalacqua made the same assertion:
“I’m proud of what we did, virtually by ourselves, and how we handled the situation.”
– Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua
But Gramling wasn’t done shielding the GPD from scrutiny.
At the August 4th City Council meeting, Gramling not only repeated his Facebook statement, he undertook an aggressive attack against those who would dare criticize the GPD’s gross mishandling of the racist graffiti incident.
Gramling opened the Council Reports segment of the meeting with the following:
“I just want to dispel any misinformation…
The Geneva Police Department did utilize their department resources with minimal assistance from the Ontario County (Sheriff’s Department) and fortunately no assistance was needed from the state, even though there was a call for outside agencies to assist GPD.
Our guys worked very hard and strategically to apprehend the perpetrator who defaced the properties in Geneva…
Once again, Gramling did not even acknowledge the 45 day delay, and instead, opened his statement by making sure the public knows that the GPD solved the graffiti case without any help from the state.
Gramling goes on to attack critics of the police by equating citizens who criticize the police with racist and white supremacist hate groups:
“I believe that even though we may have different approaches on taking care of these acts, or addressing these acts, I believe these moments should bring us together, not divide us.
…As we go forth and we see and we face these different things in our communities, I believe it’s advantageous that we lead…with love…
Hatred begets hatred.
…I’ll never mirror the actions of those who perpetrate hatred.
…I cannot allow folks with the ideologies that have, in the past, done so much damage to effect the way we progress, and the way we should progress.
…I believe there’s power in love. There’s a lot more power there than there is mimicking hate.
Councilor Gramling, once again, steps into very dangerous territory by stating that those with “ideologies” that call for police accountability are doing “damage” to “progress” by “mimicking hate.”
There are thousands of residents who want to hold our police accountable…and Gramling is literally saying that those residents are engaging in the same type of behavior as white supremacists or Nazis.
Gramling, once again, is defaming and attacking residents who call for police accountability while insisting that all he wants to see is love and unity.
Four out of five City Councilors in attendance at the August 4th Council meeting thanked Gramling for his divisive statements.
Abusive And Corrupt GPD Cop Arrested, Avoids Felony, Council Says Nothing
On July 31st, Geneva Police Officer Jack Montesanto was arrested for choking a woman unconscious in the booking area of the Geneva Police Department. The woman had been brought into the police station for noise ordinance and disorderly conduct violations. Montesanto knew he was being recorded on video when he strangled the victim.
Within 24 hours, City Councilors Camera, D’Amico, Gramling, Marino and Valentino were praising Passalacqua’s response to the Montesanto case in the Finger Lakes Times.
However, not a single City Councilor acknowledged or asked any questions about the fact that Montesanto undeniably committed a felony, but was only charged with a misdemeanor.
And since the publication of the Geneva Believer article that proved that Montesanto was undercharged, not a single City Councilor has publicly commented on the issue.
Unsurprisingly, Gramling had nothing but breathless, effusive praise for Passalacqua’s handling of the Montesanto case:
“I believe Chief Passalacqua and GPD are handling this issue with integrity and in the proper manner. The chief has been very transparent within the parameters of the law (and) getting out ahead of this. An arrest has been made and the correct steps are being taken.”
Councilor Ken Camera also praised the chief’s actions without reservation…but then took the opportunity to take a shot at Geneva Believer and anyone who dares to question the city’s official narrative around the Montesanto situation.
Exhibiting both a complete failure to understand the evolution of journalism in the 21st century and a flippant disregard for the First Amendment, Camera literally warned residents NOT to read Geneva Believer (and to only get their news from “established news media.”)
Camera urged people not to believe all that is being said on Facebook regarding the case.
“I urge residents of the city to follow the established news media sources, rather than Facebook or other types of media,” he said.
Camera said those who are reading about the issue on Facebook “should look at it with suspicion.”
And just like Paul D’Amico, Councilor Gramling, and a few outspoken critics on social media, Camera has smeared Geneva Believer without coming forth with a single example of a factual error from any of Geneva Believer’s stories.
Smearing, Discrediting, And Stigmatizing: The City’s Dangerous Attacks On Speech And Democracy
Within just 10 short days in late July, the Geneva Police Department faced two public relations nightmares.
In both cases, city officials responded by unifying and aggressively pushing a narrative that left out key facts, ignored difficult questions, insisted the police had done everything right, and openly attacked members of the public and the news media who dared to question this narrative.
Councilor Gramling insists that these kinds of events should “bring us together” and allow us to show “unity,” but he doesn’t want unity.
He wants everyone to fall in line with his ideologies and his definition of progress.
And if they don’t, he just might accuse them of “hatred.”
Councilor Camera made an explicit point to urge residents to ignore anything other than “established news media,” and should look at “with suspicion” anything they read about the GPD on “Facebook or other types of media.”
He’s pretending he wants to protect everyone from misinformation on the internet.
But in reality, he wants you to stop listening to your neighbors, friends, and independent media, and only believe what the city tells you, when it comes to the police misconduct in Geneva.
Geneva Believer thinks that you absolutely should follow “established news sources” for information about what’s going on in the City of Geneva.
But you should also follow your locally-sourced, independent, factual, citizen-driven investigative news magazines, too.
Criticizing or questioning the police is not hate.
Citizen journalism should not be “look(ed) at..with suspicion” any more than established news media should be.
There’s a police problem in Geneva, and your city government wants to be the only ones who can tell YOU what that problem is.
It’s up to YOU to find the real truth, and to reject any attempt by the city to smear, discredit, or stigmatize YOU.
Editor’s note: If you’re a newer Geneva Believer reader, or if you just want to catch up on the many in-depth, fact-based articles about the Geneva Police Department and the Community Compact over the past three years, click the link below.