Exonerated Ithaca police Lt. Byrd, center, has appeared on CNN.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Cleared from allegations that impugned his character, retiring Ithaca police Lt. Marlon Byrd was honored at City Hall Wednesday with the J. Diann Sams Annual African-American History Month Recognition Award.

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“I couldn’t imagine a better recipient,” Mayor Svante Myrick said.

The Council vote in favor of giving Byrd the award was unanimous. After the vote, there was a standing ovation.

Then Byrd hugged his family and shook the mayor’s hand.

On the other side of ‘some very, very dark times’

In 2012, Byrd found himself at the center of a firestorm involving community-police relations after The Ithaca Journal published a front-page story full of allegations tying Byrd to drug dealers.

Those allegations stemmed from a civil lawsuit involving Officer Chris Miller, who is white. Byrd, who is black, was later fully cleared of the charges that he had assisted drug dealers by a federal investigation.

Byrd, who is now leaving the police department to teach at Tompkins Cortland Community College, appeared to allude to the allegations Wednesday night.

He said he had suffered “from bad words from members of the Ithaca Police Department.”

Byrd thanked his family for getting him through “some very, very dark times.”

“Like many of us that travel the road less traveled we will hit some bumps and we will run into some difficult passages, but I believe … the strength is always within us to carry on,” Byrd said.

Exonerated Ithaca police Lt. Byrd, center, has appeared on CNN.
Exonerated Ithaca police Lt. Byrd, center, has appeared on CNN.

Byrd’s accomplishments

Common Council member JR Clairborne, reading aloud the resolution for Byrd’s award, ticked through the following accomplishments for the lieutenant:

— Byrd was the second black police lieutenant in IPD.

— He was the first black IPD investigator.

— He was among the first community police officers in IPD.

— Byrd helped solve a murder.

— Byrd appeared on CNN twice to talk about community-police relations.

— Byrd graduated from the FBI National Academy.

— Byrd encouraged a “philosophy of community policing as a daily practice,” according to Clairborne.

— Byrd led the multi-agency “critical negotiation team,” Clairborne said.

— Byrd had 23 years “admirable and distinguished” service, Clairborne said.

Common Council member George McGonigal also spoke highly of the lieutenant.

“I think we are really privileged … that Marlon chose to be a police officer here in his hometown, and in essence was a big brother to the entire community,” McGonigal said.

“And I thank you for the grace you’ve shown under pressure.”

‘Very much of a fighter’

According to a Tompkins County newsletter, the Diane Sams Annual African American History Month Recognition Award “honors outstanding persons who possess leadership, courage against unspeakable odds and vision.”

Lt. Byrd says he knew Sams and was honored and humbled to receive the award.

“(Sams) was very much a fighter, regardless of the situation … regardless of the ammunition that was being tossed at her,” Byrd said.

“She’s been called all types of names by some members of the Ithaca Police Department … and I can relate to that.”

Byrd, however, said his overriding focus was always the same.

“Above all, the main thing that stayed on my mind is: ‘How can I address the community in a way that’s going to allow all of us to move forward?’”

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.