NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The City of New Rochelle had reversed itself on claims by the Mayor and Police Commission that police made a traffic stop based on a complaint in the past about a vehicle with tinted windows.
Asked repeatedly about the basis for their claims about a vehicle with tinted windows at their June 6 press conference, the Mayor and Police Commission, declined to answer. Instead, the City Manager responded on their behalf.
“The matter of tinted windows was mentioned by the officers that responded Friday night to their supervisors,” said City Manager Charles B. Strome. “The information and quotes from the Mayor, Police Commissioner, myself and any other City official last weekend were made in real time based on the information provided to us and the information about the possible tinted windows was what we were told.”
“The question of whether the windows were tinted or not will be determined in the investigation,” Strome added. “The car was stopped because of several failure to signal violations.”
UPDATE: NRPD released a statement as this article was going to press which states “June 5, 2020, at approximately 10:54 pm two uniformed officers on patrol in an unmarked police car observed a Black Charger with Virginia plates and began to follow it. The car committed traffic infractions and the officers stopped it.”
Was the car stopped because it had been deemed a suspicious vehicle on June 3 or because of traffic infractions? And what were those traffic infractions?
Challenged on this statement— that our questions were about statements by the Mayor and Police Commissioner on June 6th regarding the incident on June 3rd, that it was not relevant to our questions what the officers that responded Friday night may have told their supervisors — Strome said, “someone either assumed the windows were tinted or there was some miscommunication.”
“At this point, we have nothing more to say about this part of the investigation,” said Strome.
New Rochelle residents cannot agree on much in the police-involved shooting death of Kamal Flowers (was it a “clean shoot” or “murder”) but no one is disputing that on June 5 at about 10:54 pm, two uniformed New Rochelle Police Officers in an unmarked car conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle￼ on Pierce Street.￼
That is about where the agreement ends.
And after a week in which the Mayor and Police Commissioner have refused to explain their unfounded claims that the basis for pulling over the car carrying Kamal Flowers was police were looking for a vehicle with tinted windows, it remains an open question, why the vehicle was stopped by police at all.
The official version has been two-fold: (1) the vehicle was stopped because officers in the unmarked car observed the driver commit several Vehicle and Traffic Law violations; (2) the vehicle was sought in connection with a report in the past of suspicious behavior.
In an email yesterday, June 11, City Manager Charles B. Strome told Talk of the Sound, The car was stopped because of several “failure to signal” violations.
According to several sources, including Sellers, he was driving from Heritage Homes where he picked up Flowers, to go to a party at his aunt’s house in City Park. The most direct route would take the pair straight down the full length of Hamilton Avenue turning into Boulevard East, then a left onto Rockland Place then a quick right onto Pierce Street where the police stopped the vehicle.
There are no traffic lights along that route. There are several stop signs but there is no report that Sellers ran any stop signs. The only two places on the route where Sellers would be required to activate his turn signals would be at the stop signs at the intersection of Boulevard East/Rockland Place and Rockland Place/Pierce Street.
UPDATE: NRPD released a statement as this article was going to press which states “June 5, 2020, at approximately 10:54 pm two uniformed officers on patrol in an unmarked police car observed a Black Charger with Virginia plates and began to follow it. The car committed traffic infractions and the officers stopped it on Pierce St. near Potter Ave. The car stop can be seen on video obtained during the investigation.”
At a press conference 12 hours after Flowers was pronounced dead at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital, Mayor Noam Bramson said police received a call from residents of Heritage Homes of “a vehicle operating in an odd fashion, driving in and out of the complex”.
UPDATE: NRPD released a transcript of the call as this article was going to press which quoted the caller saying,
ANONYMOUS CALLER: I’m a resident of — umm — Heritage Homes. Umm — I know there are units out here — um — I know with all that’s been going on? UM — I ask that because, there’s a — um — a black Dodge Charger with male occupants and it keeps circling through the complex several times. Um — it’s just — you know — with all that’s going on, I’m just — the way it keeps circling, it — it — just really looks suspicious.
COMMUNITY SERVICE OFFICER: You said, a black Charger?
ANONYMOUS CALLER: A black Dodge Charger with like, Virginia plates on it. I can’t get the plate number.
Bramson said two police officers in an unmarked police car stopped the vehicle based on it matching the description from a civilian complain of a “suspicious vehicle” at the Heritage Homes shortly before 6 pm on Wednesday June 3rd.
This statement is inconsistent with the NRPD Update issued on June 12., that the vehicle was pulled over for traffic violations.
Bramson said the “suspicious vehicle” was described as a black Dodge Charger with tinted windows and Virginia plates UPF1991.
This statement, based on the transcript of the June 3 call released on June 13, is inaccurate. The caller did not know the tag number and the police have yet to explain how they obtained that information during the event and why it was not provided to the responding officers.
At the same weekend press conference, Police Commissioner Joe Schaller described how Flowers exited the vehicle on Pierce Street, ran across Potter Avenue and into a dead on Sharrot Street by the Westchester Humane Society where he was shot and killed by a New Rochelle Police Officer, since identified as Alec McKenna.
UPDATE: NRPD released an update as this article was going to press which confirms for the first time that PO Alec McKenna was the shooter and which also states that Kamal Flowers was struck twice not once, the update no longer mentions a “tussle” between Flowers and PO Alec McKenna and the update no longer says Flowers tried to fire his gun at McKenna only that he displayed a gun.
At the June 6 Press Conference Schaller stressed that police had intelligence that individuals with New Jersey plates and tinted windows were seeking to come into the area to be disruptive and the car on Wednesday had tinted windows.
“This is something that all police departments in the area have been very alert to because there had been reports of people coming in particularly from outside the state with out of state plates particularly temporary Jersey plates and tinted windows,” said Police Commissioner Joe Schaller. “…the car had tinted windows.”
The vehicle had neither tinted windows nor New Jersey plates nor temporary plates and both Sellers and Flowers were New Rochelle residents who grew up in New Rochelle.
The vehicle was a rental car and, according to the driver, did not have tinted windows. CCTV video provided by the New Rochelle Police Department appears to back that up. When an unmarked police car pulls up behind the car driven by Muhammad Sellers and shines its headlights into the Dodge Charger both Sellers and Kamal Flowers are visible inside the car.
The car has since been impounded. It does not have tinted windows.
In the audio of the Dispatch Call, officers are advised of a report of a Black Dodge Charger driving in and out of the Heritage Homes complex. The number of people in the car is described in the incident report as unknown but a transcript of the call by the Heritage Homes resident who called in the June 3 complaint says there were two occupants. There is no mention of tinted windows. A responding officer did report seeing a Black Dodge Durango but no Dodge Charger.
According to Sellers, through an attorney, his name was on the rental agreement. The vehicle was rented from Enterprise.
According to the incident report on the Heritage Homes call on Wednesday, the call was logged as received at 17:48 (5:48 pm). The first officer arrived on scene at 17:55, a reaction time of six minutes and 27 seconds. At 18:01 the vehicle ID is entered, Virginia plates UPF1991. At 18:02 the last office left for a total time on scene of 7 minutes and 19 seconds.
According to a transcript of the complaint made June 3, the called reported Virginia plates but no tag. There is no explanation of why information about the Virginia plates was not in the radio transmissions during the incident. There is no explanation for how the vehicle tag came to be logged in the incident report. We have asked police and have yet to receive an answer.
If the police had the vehicle’s license plate information at about 6 pm Wednesday then police would have known the registered owner of the vehicle was Enterprise. Rental car companies have dedicated phone lines for law enforcement to call and get renter information. Had New Rochelle Police called Enterprise the company would have been able to tell police the vehicle had been rented to Muhammad Sellers and was not in the possession of some anarchist trouble-maker from out-of-state.
This raises a question of whether NRPD obtained Muhammad Sellers name between 6:01 pm June 3 and 10:54 pm on June 5.
What is hard to understand is the level of interest in what police would typically dismiss as an unfounded complaint: there was no allegation of any illegal behavior by Sellers, the renter and, he says, the driver, no vehicle matching the description was located and driving around an apartment complex at six in the evening is not normally considered “suspicious” let alone a crime.
If there was such interest in the vehicle — and the driver — why did the Mayor and Police Commissioner say the driver, who left the scene of the traffic stop on June 5th, was unidentified when the renter could have been easily identified.
Still unexplained is how it came to pass that during the brief period while the June 3 incident was ongoing, when no police officer reported observing a Black Dodge Charger that an entry was made of Virginia plates with a specific tag.
There was no dash cam from the unmarked police car on June 5 so the only basis for saying there were any failure to signal violations is the two officers who, apparently, also claimed the vehicle had tinted windows despite no evidence supporting that but evidence contradicting that, and as NRPD now acknowledges, the vehicle did not have tinted windows, also that there was a tussle involving Flowers and McKenna when there was not, as NRPD now admits, and that Flowers tried to fire his gun at McKenna when he did not, as NRPD now admits.