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THE MONITOR

  • Gabriel Bit-Babik, Ananya Patil Rao, Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Between the lines: Utica police kill teen, community outraged

Thoung Oo addresses demonstrators calling for accountability for the Utica Police Department's killing of his brother, 13-year-old Nyah Mway. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

Utica, NY – Officers from the Utica Police Department shot and killed a thirteen-year-old Karen boy, Nyah Mway, on the night of Friday, June 28th. The West Utica shooting occurred at approximately 10:18 PM. The incident itself, police’s stated rationale for the stop, and some public officials’ subsequent handling of the case have sparked community outrage and national attention, and investigations have been launched both by UPD and the NY State Attorney General’s Office.


Official police statements said they stopped Nyah Mway and his friend because, allegedly, Mway was walking in the roadway and they matched the description of a burglary suspect in the area on the basis of race and one having a bicycle. In the body cam footage, the only reason an officer shared with a supervisor was the alleged traffic violation.


After officers ask to pat down Mway, he runs and officers Patrick Husnay, Bryce Patterson, and Andrew Citriniti – all of whom are white – chase him on Shaw Street. Patterson’s body cam shows Mway holding what police thought was a firearm (later found to be a pellet gun) while running before Patterson tackles Mway into the ground and begins punching him. Husnay maneuvers around Patterson and shoots the child in the chest.


Protestors, including Mway’s older brother Thoung Oo, called for an official City apology and for officers to be prosecuted at a ~200-person demonstration around midday Monday, July 1st in front of Utica City Hall and the State Office Building. Chants including “No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police!” and “Say his name! Nyah Mway!” rang out.  Many of the attendees were members of the Karen refugee community, and there was a heavy local and national media presence.


Demonstrators call for justice for Nyah Mway in front of the Utica State Office Building. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

On the morning of Saturday, June 29th, about a hundred mostly Karen community members – including many of Mway’s family members – attended a chaotic press conference at City Hall, and several hundred local residents attended a vigil at the site of the shooting that evening. Hours later, what appeared to be unaffiliated demonstrators had a tense standoff with UPD outside a police building. Sunday, Mayor Michael Galime (R) was grilled by mostly Karen community members at a meeting about the shooting in Tabernacle Baptist Church, without police officials present. Several members of the NYS Senate and Assembly have now raised concerns about the shooting.


Thoung Oo created a GoFundMe to cover funeral, legal, counseling, and other family costs. As of publishing, over $43,000 was raised. “Our family moved to America nine years ago as refugees from Myanmar to find a better life safe from law enforcement killings and ethnic cleansing,” he wrote. “The UPD video cam, the witness testimonies, and stories they told my family don't add up, especially when they told my parents (who don't speak English at all) that there was a shootout. We need answers.”


Supporters have created a website, JusticeForNyah.com, to share information, calls to action, and promote the hashtag #whydidyoushootNyah.


Utica Karen Community, a nonprofit by and for Karen community members, issued a statement on Facebook:


“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our community member, thirteen years old Nyah Mway. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and everyone affected. We strongly condemn Utica Police Department use of excessive force and we demand transparency in the investigation. We are committed to help the family during this difficult time.”


Demonstrators at City Hall hold signs. Many brought pictures of Nyah Mway. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

What happened Friday night?


Police-released body camera footage begins with Mway stopped on the Shaw Street sidewalk beside a second child, who is on a bicycle. An officer asks to search Mway for weapons. Mway breaks into a run, resulting in the three officers chasing him down the street. Patterson’s body cam briefly shows Mway holding what police later said was the replica Glock pellet gun they retrieved from the scene. According to the footage, several seconds after an officer shouts that he saw a gun, Mway falls in the street, quickly gets up, and Patterson tackles him. Husnay is shouting “drop it.” As Patterson pins Mway to the sidewalk and punches him, Husnay runs in from behind, maneuvers around Patterson, and fires a single shot into the child’s chest.


“I was on top of him,” Patterson says at the fourteen-minute mark on his body camera footage, about thirteen minutes after the shooting. “I don’t know how he [Husnay] got that shot; I was on top of him [Mway].”


While Patterson and Citriniti’s body cams begin with a beep and no transition effect, Husnay’s footage begins with a fade from black. By the time of publishing, police spokesperson Lt. Michael Curley had told Monitor he did not know why this was the case and was looking into whether there was a difference from the original footage in the UPD system.


Content warning for graphic violence. Body cam footage from Officer Bryce Patterson and edited by UPD. UPD also released a longer video from Patterson’s body cam and footage from the two other officers.


On Saturday, June 29th, at 9:27 PM, UPD released a statement on the shooting via its Facebook page, alongside links to the body cam footage of the officers. The post says the officers were assisting the UPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, patrolling the West Utica area for two robbery suspects from June 27th described only as “one Asian male and one dark skinned male, with one being on foot and the other on a bicycle.” UPD said the officers stopped Mway and the other minor due to fitting the description and for walking in the roadway, a minor traffic violation.


The stop begins with Patterson telling the boys, “The reason why we're stopping you is you're riding in the roadway, and you’re walking,” while gesturing to each.


At 12 minutes and 23 seconds on Husnay’s body cam, he can be heard telling another officer that the stop was “Just V&T [Vehicle and Traffic] violations, I don’t know how [inaudible].”


As first reported by CNY Central, none of the officers mention the robbery in available footage. Curley told CNY Central, however, that the officers “were specifically provided suspect descriptions, and time of day and things of that nature and asked them to be in that specific area based on the previous robbery descriptions” by the criminal investigation division “earlier in the evening.”


UPD’s Facebook statement alleges that Mway “points” what officers believed to be a handgun “directly” at Patterson and the other officers while fleeing, but body cam video – some of which UPD edited to pause on and circle what they say is the pellet gun – is difficult to make out. The post does not discuss Patterson’s punches, Husnay’s shot, or say where the pellet gun was while Mway was pinned to the ground. Some of the body cam footage released by UPD blurs an area noticeably larger than Mway.




Content warning for graphic violence. Monitor used the longer, unedited footage from Patterson’s body cam to highlight an object appearing to be jolted from Nyah Mway into the air during pursuit and landing on the grass.



Content warning for graphic violence. Monitor synchronized body cam footage from Husnay (bottom left) and Patterson (background right) and highlighted Husnay picking up the pellet gun.


Content warning for blood. Photo released by UPD. Pictured is likely the “detachable magazine” of the pellet gun referenced by police chief Mark Williams at the Saturday press conference.

About two seconds prior to when Husnay shot Mway, and while Mway was on the ground, the pellet gun appeared to still be in his hand. This is according to previously unhighlighted footage shared by UPD chief Mark Williams, in an interview with WSYR-TV NewsChannel 9. As Patterson tackles Mway, Husnay can be heard on his body cam footage shouting, “Drop it,” once as Patterson and Mway fall down and again after they are on the ground.


WSYR-TV’s video zooms in and freezes on a single frame where Mway is shown to be holding the pellet gun about a third of a second after Husnay shouts, with it moving toward the ground and away from Patterson. About two seconds later – with no footage so far identified showing where the pellet gun was – Husnay fired. Prior UPD statements from the previous two days did not claim the pellet gun was in Mway’s hand while on the ground.


At 20 minutes in Citriniti’s body cam, he refers to thirteen-year-old Mway as a “male adult” in a radio message while officers are providing medical assistance.


Police personnel files showed that the firing officer, Patrick Husnay, was marked in a 2019 performance evaluation as “needs improvement” in the categories of: “responsiveness to supervision,” “performance,” “command presence,” “attendance,” “reliability,” “investigative/problem solving skills,” “knowledge of laws, policies, etc,” and “performance under stress.” Husnay was a relatively new officer at the time, and the 2019 performance evaluation report is the only one of his publicly available on the UPD’s website; many other officers' files are a year or more out of date.


Curley told Monitor that he had spoken with UPD’s Professional Standards Unit, who “have a schedule of how and when records get updated on the site, we will certainly attempt at expediting the updates on the officers, but if you need them quicker I would suggest foiling them through foil@cityofutica.com.”


At the press conference attended by over a hundred community members in City Hall Saturday morning, police chief Williams, Curley, and Mayor Galime, who are white, provided some details about what led to the shooting and initially declined to share why Mway and another young boy were stopped beyond being related to a “police investigation.” The City and, as required by law, NY State Attorney General’s Office are investigating the incident. The three officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, Williams said. After moving to an upstairs conference room with press due to community uproars in the lobby, Curley further said that the UPD would limit its future release of information to prevent affecting the parallel AG investigation.


The Daily Sentinel reported that Mway’s family has retained a lawyer.


Utica Police Department policies


Page 103 of the UPD Policy Manual available on the City website covers “Foot Pursuit” policy:


“It is the policy of this agency that officers, when deciding to initiate or continue a foot pursuit, continuously balance the objective of apprehending the suspect with the risk and potential for injury to agency members, the public or the suspect,” it begins. “Officers are expected to act reasonably, based on the totality of the circumstances.”


“The safety of agency members and the public should be the primary consideration when determining whether a foot pursuit should be initiated or continued. Officers must be mindful that immediate apprehension of a suspect is rarely more important than the safety of the public and agency members.”


The policy says officers may begin pursuit when there is “reasonable suspicion to believe an individual is about to engage in, is engaging in, or has engaged in criminal activity,” and whether to continue “must be continuously re-evaluated in light of the circumstances presented at the time.”


“Mere flight by a person who is not suspected of criminal activity alone shall not serve as justification for engaging in a foot pursuit without the development of reasonable suspicion regarding the individual’s involvement in criminal activity or being wanted by law enforcement.”


Monitor has enabled download of the Foot Pursuit policy here:


UPD Foot Pursuit Policy
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.06MB

UPD’s “Use of Force” policy begins on page 44. It says the use of deadly force is permitted when:


“(a) An officer may use deadly force to protect themself or others from what the officer

reasonably believes is an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”


“(b) An officer may use deadly force to stop a fleeing subject when the officer has probable

cause to believe that the individual has committed, or intends to commit, a felony

involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious bodily injury or death, and the

officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or

death to any other person if the individual is not immediately apprehended. Under

such circumstances, a verbal warning should precede the use of deadly force, where feasible.”


“Imminent does not mean immediate or instantaneous. An imminent danger may exist even if the suspect is not at that very moment pointing a weapon at someone. For example, an imminent danger may exist if an officer reasonably believes that the individual has a weapon or is attempting to access one and intends to use it against the officer or another person. An imminent danger may also exist if the individual is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death without a weapon, and the officer believes the individual intends to do so.”


Monitor has enabled download of the Use of Force policy here:


UPD Use of Force Policy
.pdf
Download PDF • 2.65MB

In a brief interview with Monitor following the intense Sunday community meeting, Mayor Galime said, “based on what is going on with this specific incident, it’s too early to assess whether something does need to be revised.” He said, though, that the changes he has been making as Mayor are “going after the root cause of why kids are going around with guns” by “working in the community through the refugee center” (The Center, formerly known as the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees) and “adding more youth programs.”


Galime said the negative response he received from the crowd was “exactly what I would have expected. It’s a community grieving. I’m very direct, and I answered questions  with the absolute best way possible, without sugarcoating any of it.”


“Someone has died. That’s very, very difficult. It’s difficult for all of us. Myself, the entire community, but especially the family and friends of this community because they’re Karen, they came here together.”


Asked if he felt there was any racism in this incident or UPD in general, Galime replied “In this incident, no. And I guess– No, not with this incident.”


Community grieves, demands accountability


Community members, especially from the Karen community, which makes up approximately 7,000 of Utica’s ~65,000 residents, are expected to continue advocating in the days to come.


“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of a young member of our community,” began an Instagram statement from the Midtown Utica Community Center and its executive director Kay Klo,  who is Karen and was heavily involved in Monday's protest. “This devastating incident has left our community in mourning and highlights the urgent need for collective action to ensure the safety and well-being of all our children.” MUCC was “coordinating with local resources to support services and any other help required by those affected by the tragedy.”


The ~200-person-strong protest and march on Monday began in Utica City Hall’s council chambers at 11 AM. It was a broad cross-section of Utica’s diversity: children, elders, and people from many of the different ethnic backgrounds that make up the city. The brief, unrelated council meeting – though there was an agenda item related to putting police officers in Utica schools – ended, and protest chants immediately began. The demonstrators followed councilmembers as they left the room, and congregated outside with bullhorns.


Demonstrators held signs during a brief session of the Common Council on Monday morning. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25

At least a dozen members of the press, from local independent journalists to the NY Times, were present. As the crowd formed a circle around speakers, community members shared their pain and anger. Portions of the event were translated for Karen attendees.


“We want an official apology [for] wrongdoing from the Utica Mayor’s Office and Utica Police Department regarding the wrongful death of a little 13-year-old boy,” Kay Klo said into the megaphone. “What do we want?” she called. “Justice!” the crowd responded.


“When do we want it?”


“Now!”


Other demands included a fair investigation, an anti-gun campaign, and prosecution for the shooting. “This is just the beginning,” Klo said.


“Utica is our home,” the crowd chanted at one point. “We are the future.”


Thoung Oo, Mway’s brother, shared his anger at Mayor Galime with the crowd. He accused Galime of apologizing to his mother, and then retracting the apology.


The crowd began chanting “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” toward City Hall.


Yadana Oo, another organizer, promised that if Galime did not take action to be “the mayor we thought you would be and do the right thing,” his first term – which started in January – would be his last.


“No justice, no peace!” the crowd chanted.


As organizers wound down the demonstration at City Hall, demonstrators began marching to the State Office Building on Genesee Street in what appeared to be a spontaneous move. The crowd continued chanting there for about 30 minutes before marching back to City Hall where they concluded after another 20 minutes.


Many children around Nyah Mway's age attended the demonstration on Monday. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25

Monitor briefly interviewed Venice and Evon Ervin as the protest grew nearby outside City Hall. Venice (D) represents the 5th Ward on the Utica Common Council, and Evon (D) District 20 in the Oneida County Legislature. The married couple, who are Black, are the only people of color elected to either level of government, with 16 City of Utica and 35 Oneida County elected offices. This is despite Utica’s population being 41.5% people of color, and for Oneida County, 15.2%. There are no members of the refugee community elected to any level of government representing Utica. About 22.2% of Uticans are foreign-born.


“I think people have a right to protest,” Venice said. “But I also understand that there’s a process that has to be followed to make sure that things are looked at, so you can give the right answers to the family, and to the community. And I’m talking about the whole Utica community.”


“I mean, because everybody is a little upset right now, people are taking different sides on the matter. So we all have to be patient, and patience is gonna be tough.”


Venice said a lot of different organizations will be involved in the process of determining what happened, and added that he doesn’t have any problem with peaceful protest. “But if it starts getting out of hand, which it could, that’s when it takes on a different view.” He said he’s happy demonstrations have been peaceful so far. He also told the Utica Observer-Dispatch that the City’s civilian review board has begun reviewing the body cam footage.


Evon Ervin told Monitor that she understands anger, having lived in Cornhill for much of their lives and raising young Black children in the community. “Anger is good, but also we have to be able to express it in a way that the point is heard.” She emphasized that someone may be right, but in regards to how something is said, “sometimes it goes over someone’s head.”


Tuesday afternoon, Democratic NYS Senators John Liu and Jeremy Cooney, alongside Assemblymembers Grace Lee, Zohran Mamdani, Ron Kim, Steven Raga, and Sarahana Shrestha, released a joint statement on the shooting, saying in part they were “in solidarity with the Karen community and echo their calls for a fair and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident. Video footage from police body-cams and bystander phones appear to show that while Nyah Mway may have displayed a realistic-looking pellet gun while running from police, he was already lying on the ground subdued by officers when he was shot.” The list includes officials who come from a variety of Asian backgrounds, and one, Ron Kim, has a connection to the area as an alum of Hamilton College.


The police killing has drawn significant attention from local progressive political groups, too.


“No child deserves to be physically assaulted and fatally shot,” said local community organizer and president of state advocacy group Citizen Action NY, Shana Dahlin, “least of all by those who are paid to serve and protect. Police brutality does not equate to public safety.” Dahlin, who is Korean, said “Our community is grieving the loss of Nyah Mway, but we also are demanding full transparency and accountability from the Utica Police Department.”


The steering committee of Indivisible Mohawk Valley, another progressive advocacy group,  said, “Members of Indivisible Mohawk Valley add their love and solidarity with the Karen community, with Utica, and the entire Mohawk Valley who are heartbroken at the loss of a young son of Utica, especially while there is so much unknown that led to his death by local police on Friday night. The calls for justice are loud.”


In a statement released on July 3rd, president of the NAACP Utica-Oneida County Branch, Freddie Hamilton, who is Black, said, “The Utica-Oneida County Branch of the NAACP extends our deepest condolences to the family of Nyah Mway and the Karen community. We recognize the many ways that this loss has left our entire city in deep mourning and emotional turmoil.


“Whether locally or on the state and national level, the NAACP is truly committed to providing support for the family and the Karen community as they seek justice for their loved one. We echo the call to action and the need to continue the vital work of keeping our children and community safe.”


Several media outlets have drawn criticism from some community members for how they have reported on the shooting. Local TV station WKTV and newspaper Utica Observer-Dispatch have used variations of “police-involved shooting” in some of their reporting, which goes against official AP Stylebook recommendations for its vagueness. ABC News falsely reported that at the press conference Chief Williams had accused Mway of “pointing” the pellet gun at officers when, at the time, he had used the term “displayed.” Numerous other outlets made similar errors as the story began to go viral.


After the first portion of the protest, media asked questions of organizers and Mway’s brother, Thoung Oo. A reporter inquired if he knew where Mway was coming from before the stop, and he along with fellow organizers walked away distraught. (He had already answered the question by sharing during his speech that Mway was returning from an 8th grade graduation barbecue.)


A currently unidentified individual then stood in front of the press and said that the question was inappropriate and the wrong question to ask, repeating a theme from the demonstration.


As more information trickles out, tensions remain high and community leaders begin the process of healing. The community continues to organize, to grieve, and to make their demands heard.


Update: At 12:43 PM on July 4th, additional information about the seconds preceding the shot and a new statement from the local NAACP was added.

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