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ARTIST DEFENDS REFUSAL TO GIVE UP MELEE TAPE
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
in: New York Times, September 4th, 1988
LEAD: When Clayton Patterson, a 40-year-old East Village video artist and hat maker, ventured out shortly before midnight to tape a music act, he had no idea he would end up in the vortex of a storm over police brutality in New York City.
When Clayton Patterson, a 40-year-old East Village video artist and hat maker, ventured out shortly before midnight to tape a music act, he had no idea he would end up in the vortex of a storm over police brutality in New York City.
Heading to a nightclub where he had been asked to tape a performance, Mr. Patterson said he overheard people talking about a showdown between neighborhood people and the police over the use of Tompkins Square Park.
Heading instead to the park, Mr. Patterson taped scenes that have outraged many New Yorkers and forced disciplinary actions and procedural reviews by Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward. Officers who wore no badges clubbed and kicked bystanders for no apparent reason and rushed in uncontrolled waves into crowds that had gathered to watch the confrontation.
Since portions of the videotape - apparently the most extensive and graphic record of the Tompkins Park riot - were seen on local television, and reporters from The New York Times used it to help reconstruct the events of the evening, Mr. Patterson has been beseiged with requests for the tape from some of the more than 100 people who filed complaints about the police with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, news organizations, the Manhattan District Attorney's office and the Police Department itself.
Mr. Patterson's insistence that he retain control over the tape has resulted in contempt of court charges for refusing to answer an Aug. 19 grand jury subpoena for the tape.
Explaining his refusal to hand over his tape, Mr. Patterson said he feared that the office of Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney, was too close to the Police Department and would work to find a way to blunt its impact. Citing an incident last year that he said cemented his distrust of police-related prosecutions, he said, "You had that guy uptown who was beat up by the cops on videotape, and the victim ended up getting prosecuted - it's all starting to sound too much like South American dictatorships."
Mr. Patterson was referring to a March 20, 1987, incident in which a film of the arrest of Alberto Flores, a 27-year-old assault suspect, showed police officers hitting Mr. Flores repeatedly in the face and body. Distrust of System.
Mr. Patterson explained his refusal to hand over his tape to the Manhattan District Attorney, by saying, "In a city with 30,000 policemen there have got to be some bad ones, but Morgenthau has no record of prosecuting cops - that's just a bad concept, bad for the cops and bad for society." A former teacher from western Canada, Mr. Patterson has lived in the East Village for more than 10 years, where he has long worked for groups that oppose drug sales and urge rehabilitation of the idle housing stock. He said his refusal to relinquish the tape grows out of a distrust of the system.
Following news accounts of his tape, Mr. Patterson said the internal affairs division of the Police Department asked him for a screening.
"As they watched it I could tell by their language and their attitude they were interested in discrediting my tape, too," Mr. Patterson said, explaining that the police had already derided another video of the incident.
Soon, Mr. Patterson, at the request of the lawyer Alton H. Maddox Jr. was on his way to Washington, where portions of the tape were shown to Representative John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, in a bid to have him reconvene hearings on police brutality in the city.
Returning to New York, Mr. Patterson said he was surprised that the Rev. Al Sharpton gave a news conference "trying to turn the session with Conyers into the Tawana Brawley-goes-to-Washington show." Mr. Patterson, feeling that the Tompkins Square melee had little to do with the Brawley case, then ended his association with Mr. Maddox.
He said he was willing to go to jail when he returns to court Tuesday rather than hire a lawyer and give up the tape. He said, "It's really very simple, and I don't need some dazzling lawyer." The court asks, "Can I have your tape?" he said. "The answer is no."