MANHATTAN — A college student got an unpleasant taste of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program during a first-time visit to the Big Apple, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
Clayton Baltzer, 19, who is studying to become a Christian minister at Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Clarks Summit, Penn., came to the city on March 27 to see the sights.
Instead, he got a tour of the city's criminal justice system after his one-inch pocket knife was spotted by cops.
Enacting the NYPD's strict zero tolerance frisk policy, those cops not only went through Baltzer's belongings, but arrested him and slapped him with weapons possession charges. A hearing on those charges is scheduled for Monday.
Baltzer told On the Inside that it all started as he passed through the Times Square subway station on his way to see the opera at Lincoln Center, ending a day-long field trip to view the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Discovery Museum, Ground Zero and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An undercover cop spied the clasp of his pocket knife dangling out of his pocket. He pulled Baltzer from his church group and was quickly joined by two other officers. The cops took the one-inch knife and started flicking it to see if it would open from centrifugal force, which technically makes it a gravity knife and, therefore, illegal.
After several tries, that blade finally flipped open and locked in place.
“I was telling them I did not know [knives] were not allowed,” Baltzer said.
“They took me and took my backpack and told my friends they could not follow because they were not allowed to watch me being searched,” Baltzer, who grew up outside Columbus, Ohio, told On the Inside.
The officers took him outside the station and asked if he had any other knives on him. Baltzer said he had another four-inch Winchester in his backpack that he had forgotten was even there.
He explained that he volunteers at the Arrowhead Bible Camp near his college where he uses the knife to cut small pieces of wood to be used by children to roast marshmallows over a fire.
Making things more difficult was the fact that Baltzer did not have any ID on him. He told the cops that it had been stolen, and suggested they contact the Clarks Summit police department to confirm that he had reported the theft.
Meanwhile, the cops searched his classmates and checked their identification as they stood off to the side. They all vouched for Baltzer and all of them, including Baltzer, showed the cops their opera tickets for the 7 p.m. performance of “L’Elisir d’Amore” at the Metropolitan Opera House.
The three undercover cops eventually asked their lieutenant what to do.
The lieutenant could have taken the knives and let Baltzer go with a warning. Police officials told “On The Inside” the lieutenant could have given Baltzer a summons for violating a city administrative code, which requires only a small fine and leaves no criminal record.
Instead, the lieutenant took the hard line. He ordered Baltzer cuffed and arrested. The teen was taken to the Times Square transit district precinct, fingerprinted, his mugshot was taken and he was placed in a holding cell.
He was charged with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, one count of criminal possession of knives, one count of possessing a weapon or dangerous instrument in the Transit Authority — all misdemeanors.
After charging Baltzer, the cops called his family and the field trip chaperone. They confirmed his identity, adding to the classmates who vouched for him. He was spared a night in jail awaiting arraignment and was released after four hours with a desk appearance ticket and the proviso that he make the 500 mile drive from Ohio and show up for court on May 7.
When Baltzer was cut loose, one cop thanked him for being respectful and cooperative.
While no one disputes the fact that Baltzer shouldn't have been carrying knives, present and former cops told On the Inside that the decision to collar the kid was wrong. They said "Zero Tolerance" has stripped supervisors in the Kelly administration of exercising their judgment in these cases, and they are afraid to take any risks for fear of incurring the top cop's wrath.
And besides, it boosts arrests numbers, one said.
"It was just not a good call. Why lock him up?" another police official asked.
"The question you have to ask is, ‘What did that do to ensure safety in the subway? What did you do other than create paperwork, take up your time with a B.S arrest that did nothing to reduce crime, which is the bottom line.
"And you now have turned a fan of the police into someone who wonders if we exercised good judgment.”
Which was precisely how Baltzer felt.
“I felt like it was a little harsh since I did not know [the law] and was not going to do anything with the knives,” said Baltzer, who works two jobs to pay for school.
“I know they are doing their jobs, but it made me feel like a criminal when I did not think I was.”
Other than returning here for his court appearances, Baltzer said he is finished with New York.
“I had heard some good thing about New York, but I am more a country guy who goes riding horses and things like that,” he said.
“I probably won’t come back ever unless I have to,” he said. “Especially after this.”