87 Ferris Place
Ossining, NY 10562
CITY OF NEWBURGH — City police drove to 14 City Terrace one afternoon last week after a woman warned a 911 dispatcher that someone was going to die.
Officers found no weapons, and no one was fighting when they pulled up. That quickly changed. Stories of what happened next vary here and there, but police and witnesses agreed on several details:
The first is that City of Newburgh police Officers Robert Vasta and Andres Arestin questioned a group of young men surrounding a maroon car until 23-year-old Tiffany Lewis came outside, pointed at one of the young men and told the cops he was the guy. Vasta and Arestin told her to get back.
That’s about the time 19-year-old Odessa Davis, a friend of the young men, showed up. Davis and Lewis exchanged words, and the fighting began.
The two women walked up the street throwing punches. When they kept at it, Vasta released a police dog. The dog seized Lewis by her right arm and tore her sweatshirt and skin. Officers charged both women with disorderly conduct. Lewis is also charged with resisting arrest.
The debate focuses on who was wrong and how much force two male officers needed to stop two women fighting.
A week later, more than 20 stitches bound Lewis’s bruised skin together. She was the one who called police that day. City Terrace is a hangout for one of Newburgh’s younger gangs, the Ashy Bandits, and Lewis had argued with one of them that day. A couple of Ashies tried to force their way into an apartment where Lewis’ cousin, Robyn Smith, lived, she said.
“I called the police for help,” Lewis said.
Junior Forde, 46, of Beacon had gone around the corner before the fighting began. When he returned, he said, he saw the women begin to fight. He says he never heard officers tell the women to stop.
“They just wanted to let this dog out and treat them like animals,” Forde said.
In his report, Vasta wrote Lewis started the fight and he warned her and Davis to stop three times before unleashing the dog. Of five witnesses interviewed, one remembered hearing Vasta warn the women, but he said it was only once and low.
“I wouldn’t have heard them if I was fighting,” said the man, who identified himself as Ted.
Lewis wonders why Vasta didn’t try to separate them or mace them.
“I shouldn’t have been fighting in front of the police, but you have to turn the dog on me?” Lewis said.
Similar questions have been asked of Vasta before. He’s named in a federal lawsuit alleging police brutality stemming from an incident in March 2005. More recently, a grand jury decided last month there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him in the death of Nathaniel Cobbs, 25, who was arrested high on PCP last summer and later died at the Newburgh campus of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital.
As for last week’s incident, Lt. Charles Broe said Wednesday there could be several ways to interpret it. That block of City Terrace is notoriously anti-cop, he said, and the officers may not have wanted to turn their backs on the young men around the maroon car, especially if a crowd was forming. Asked to elaborate yesterday, Broe declined to say more except, “We’re definitely reviewing it.”