JOHNSON CITY, NY (WIVT/WBGH) – Local protesters angry over the death in Memphis of Tyre Nichols shut down the Wegmans in Johnson City last night.

The protest, which included about 50 people, began at around 7 p.m.

Dozens of law enforcement vehicles and ambulances quickly descended on the grocery store which was subsequently closed for the evening.

Police also stopped additional traffic from entering the property.

JC Police say 15 people were arrested last night.

Among them was former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan who says he was asked by protest organizers to be present as a legal observer.

Ryan was a criminal defense attorney prior to being elected Mayor.

Ryan says he was unlawfully arrested as he was on the periphery and not participating in the protest.

He says the police response was an over-reaction to what was intended as a peaceful 16 minute-long protest, 16 minutes representing the length of time Memphis police were seen on camera beating Tyre Nichols, leading to his death.

Ryan says the violent manner in which the arrests were made and protesters pepper sprayed, combined with the controversial knee-on-neck arrest that was made in Binghamton on New Year’s Day, proves that police reform is needed.

He says Binghamton cops shouldn’t have been anywhere near the scene.

“After what happened downtown on New Year’s morning, and the scrutiny they are under, why would you let your policemen anywhere near that? There were five agencies there, Binghamton, Johnson City, Endicott, the Sheriff and state police. It was an overwhelming presence and they are kind of proving the demonstrators’ point.”

While JC Police Chief declined to comment to the media about the matter, a news release from the agency paints a very different picture.

According to the release, protesters were given ample opportunity to leave private property and take their demonstration out to a public sidewalk where they would have the First Amendment right to carry on their protest.

Police say their goal was to take agitators into custody without using force.

But they say some of the activists resisted arrest, while others looked to interfere with the arrests, punching officers and creating a pile of bodies.

JC Police assert that they agree with the outrage over the death of Tyre Nichols and the right to peacefully protest on public property but that they were obligated to remove trespassers at the request of Wegmans.

You can view their full statement below:

The Johnson City Police Department responded to an illegal protest which occurred on private property owned by Wegmans at 7:00 PM Wednesday night on February 1st, 2023. Approximately 50 people participated in the unlawful event.

Before getting into further details of the incident, it is necessary to distinguish between lawful and unlawful protests. The Johnson City Police Department strongly supports the 1st Amendment and the right of people to peacefully and lawfully protest. Lawful protests can be held on some public property, or on private property with the consent of the property owner. A protest becomes unlawful when it is held on privately owned property against the wishes of the property owner.

In the case of last night’s event, the organizers intentionally chose to gather on private property. The property owners contacted the Johnson City Police for assistance, as they did not want the event to take place on their property, nor did they want any of the participants to remain on their property. Wegmans employees first warned the participants that they were not welcome on the premises, and asked them to leave. The employees’ requests were answered with shouted profanities. Instead of complying with Wegman’s warning to leave the property, one organizer responded by announcing “If they want to have us arrested, then that’s fine” and further made it known that he intended for the participants to unlawfully enter the store. This action required Wegmans to quickly close and lock the store to prevent the participants from entering in order to protect their property and safeguard customers inside. Despite Wegman’s efforts to warn off the participants, the participants continued to remain unlawfully on the property and cause disruptions.

After about 10 minutes of the participants trespassing and causing a disturbance, Wegmans requested that police tell the participants and all observers, including the press, to leave their property, as is their legal right as property owners. Officers repeatedly and clearly advised the participants and the news media to vacate the premises, and that anyone not in compliance was guilty of trespass. Officers offered up a public sidewalk immediately across the street from the Wegmans entrance where the group could peacefully and lawfully protest. The order to leave and the offer to continue the protest on public property were met with more profane shouting and obscene gestures.

After failing to disperse and leave, officers attempted to place several agitators in custody for trespass without using force. The instant that officers attempt to place a subject in handcuffs, a mob of protestors rush in to interfere. Some of the people grab the subject to pull them free from officers, some of the people push the officers back, and some employ violence and punch the officers. One officer was punched in the face and sustained a laceration to his lip. More officers move in to assist in removing people from the pile.

Throughout the chaotic scene, various groups of subjects repeatedly advance toward officers instead of following commands to back up and leave. It is at this time an officer displays pepper spray and repeatedly issues warnings to the groups to back up or they will be sprayed. The groups ignore repeated warnings and the officer releases a one second burst of pepper spray which was effective in moving the group it was aimed at. The officer proceeded to issue the same warning to a second group of people immediately behind them who had ignored the previous warnings. He then dispenses a second one-second burst of pepper spray towards that group.

Included in that group was a reporter with the Press and Sun Bulletin, who provided a misleading video on their website, along with false statements in the news story. Contrary to her statements in the article, body camera footage shows that she is not seen holding up her credentials, nor can she be heard identifying herself as the press. Regardless of press credentials, she had been warned along with the others to leave the property. Other news reporters from other media outlets complied and left the property while she chose to remain and trespass. As she and the other reporters well know, freedom of the press does not allow them to trespass on private property.

Also, included in the list of those arrested was former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan. Mr. Ryan was quoted on the news claiming that he was there shopping, and that he was just an observer and was not participating. Video footage revealed that Mr. Ryan is lying, and that he never entered the store to shop. He arrived with the protestors, and while he initially stayed back from the group, he was still advised multiple times to leave but refused to do so. Mr. Ryan is also seen in a video verbally engaged with another person and yelling profanities. As the chaos ensued, he approached closer and closer to the officers until they took him into custody. He also erroneously stated that he was charged with resisting arrest. He has not yet been processed for any charges, nor has he been issued any accusatory instruments. He was simply taken into custody and issued an appearance ticket to appear in court at a later date. In the confusion, an officer mistakenly wrote “trespassing” and “resisting arrest” on his ticket, however he in fact did not resist arrest. The appropriate charges of trespass and obstructing governmental administration will likely be filed in the coming days.

It is clear that this event was not organized to be a peaceful, lawful protest from the very beginning. Snapshots from the organizer’s social media accounts clearly demonstrate that this group was trained in tactics to resist lawful arrests, and to obstruct in the lawful arrest of other group members. It is also clear that they intended for this to be a mass arrest scenario from the outset.

Video surveillance from inside of the store reveals that protestors entered the store prior to the start of the event to pretend they were shopping to avoid detection. They also took shopping bags and distributed them amongst themselves so that they could claim to be shopping in a deceptive effort to avoid being told to leave.

To say that this incident is unfortunate is an understatement. The fact is that not only does local law enforcement support the right to peaceful protest, but we stand with the protestors in their disgust and outrage over incidents like the killing of black men such as Tyre Nichols and George Floyd. We are also relieved that arrests were made in both of those cases, and that there have been convictions and other convictions are being swiftly pursued. That being said, the outrage of some cannot lead to lawlessness and the violating of other’s rights. There are better and more productive ways to express your position on this topic, and this particular group did not choose them.

This group put the police in the impossible position between protecting a business’s legal property rights, and the group’s desire to express moral outrage. They refused a legal and convenient alternative, and forced the police to take enforcement action that they did not want to take.

We will be releasing a more detailed summary of this incident supported by camera footage as soon as possible. We wish to be truthful and transparent throughout the public’s review of this incident.

Subjects arrested include:

-Angela M. Kennedy-Richardson of Binghamton

-Nicole L. Baisley of Endicott

-Courtney E. Hollenbeck of Town of Maine

-Sarah Faber of Binghamton

-John Cook of Endicott

-Masai Andrews of Endicott

-Shanel A. Boyce of Binghamton

-Teresa Weathers of Binghamton

-Robert Wilson of Binghamton

-Matthew T. Ryan of Binghamton

-Samuel Whalen of Binghamton

-Marissa Robinson of Binghamton

-Carinne M. Vizvary of Binghamton

-Grace Widercrantz of Binghamton

-A 17 year old male

More charging information will be released as the incident is sorted out. All subjects were quickly released from the police station in accordance with bail reform laws.

Johnson City Police Department

Wegmans also released the following statement in response to the incident:

At Wegmans, our top priority is the safety of our employees and our customers. A large group of protestors blocking an entrance to our store were advised multiple times that they were demonstrating on private property and asked to move to the public sidewalk. They refused and the event quickly escalated, putting the safety of our people and customers at risk. The matter was referred to the police and the protestors were removed.

While we respect people’s right to peacefully protest, all Wegmans locations are private property and we maintain the right to have anyone who endangers the safety and well-being of our customers or employees removed.