By Cat Jones
Adam Rupeka and his girlfriend, Jennifer Ogburn, were found dead in Mexico on the 3rd of April, just a little over a month ago. The police say it was a double suicide. And here is why I’m skeptical about that…
Adam was a police accountability activist, with Capitol District CopBlock in New York. He was famous, or infamous depending upon your perspective, for challenging the police state by testing officers’ adherence to the law, and for exposing police misconduct. He was also something of a friend of mine.
Though I did not know him well, he helped me out once, and we became friends after that. I first met him last summer, when I was assaulted by an Albany police officer for daring to stand up for the right to busk on a public sidewalk. The officer was incorrectly insisting this constitutionally protected free expression wasn’t legal, and as I filmed the officer, he grabbed my camera and tried to detain me, though I successfully defended and unarrested myself. However, the officer ticketed another person there, and I was incensed at the attack on art and the First Amendment. So I decided I had to fight back.
I went to city hall to find out whether there were any ordinances in place to restrict busking. There were none. Thus, the officer in question, Glenn Szelest, was making up his own laws. (Subsequent investigation by Chris Churchill of the Times Union revealed that the majority of this officer’s citations and arrests involved charging poor people with “disorderly conduct” for constitutionally protected activities, in an apparent effort to harass homeless people out of downtown Albany.) I called lawyers and politicians all over Albany, but initially anyway, no one was offering any assistance in this matter, and there was a legal charge to fight, not to mention principles of justice and police accountability to defend. Finally, I contacted Capital District Cop Block, and that’s how I met Adam Rupeka. He hooked me up with a friendly lawyer in the area who explained the legal process, and Adam went to great lengths to do research and assist me in this stressful time. He also showed up later, to help document and to provide cop-watching assistance at a rally I organized for the Right to Busk Albany. (In the end, justice prevailed, all charges were dropped, and a lot of very good and necessary things came out of that event.) So that’s where I met Adam, but I had known of him since I first came to New York, because as I said, Adam Rupeka was famous here.
A History of Controversy
He was most famous for an incident in Saratoga Springs, where he rigged his car with cameras and then drove through town to test a recent supreme court ruling that declared that flipping off a cop is constitutionally protected free expression, and that police cannot charge, cite, or arrest anyone for it. Police had, in fact, been harassing and arresting people for doing this in New York prior to the ruling (it was a New York man who was arrested for this that led to the supreme court ruling in the first place), so Adam decided to test whether officers would adhere to the law now that the matter was cleared up. He’d actually chosen Saratoga Springs because his organization had received a number of complaints that police in Saratoga Springs were out of line, treating citizens disrespectfully, harassing them, and abusing the authority granted to police officers. So Adam had a list of things he wanted to look into, and testing whether or not police would abide by the recent ruling regarding flipping the bird was the first thing on the list.
He found, quite quickly, that at least one officer was not up to speed on the law and was, in fact, very abusive. He was immediately (and illegally) pulled over, pepper sprayed, and arrested for flipping off one officer Nathan Baker.
Here is video from two different cameras in Adam’s car during that incident:
This first one, from a camera pointed at him during the encounter, is the best view of the actual assault, and clearly shows the officer grossly exceeding his authority and violating Adam’s civil rights: https://youtu.be/4uSZ9oSYdI8
This second one is from a dash cam, and shows much more of what came before and after the footage in the first video. https://youtu.be/eIpNK5-w81M
So the officer acted with reckless disregard for the law, as well as for the safety and well-being, not to mention the civil rights, of a citizen. But he wasn’t finished yet. He then went on to abuse and harass Adam once he got him back to the police station.
Sadly, abuse like that taking place in this photo, of a person who is in handcuffs and powerless to defend himself, and who has broken no laws, goes on all the time – hidden behind thick walls and the shiny facade of “hero” worship that far too many Americans unquestioningly bestow upon police officers… many of whom do not deserve the honor or the accolades.
This video, taken from inside the holding area, was secured by FOIA request and served to further embarrass the Saratoga police after it was released to the media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgPJG-_LtHA
A lot of people, mostly police officers but strangely, many mindlessly indoctrinated members of the public as well, just hated Adam for doing this. They accused him of “harassing” police, of “just looking for trouble,” of “deserving” to be assaulted and arrested, of being, their favorite word for awhile, “a scumbag.” In point of fact, they should have thanked him for it. Why? Because what he was doing was a public service. He was putting himself on the line to ensure that police officers respect the law as much as everybody else, that they do not harass and hurt citizens, that they do not go around making up their own laws, that they do not exceed their authority by posing as judge, jury, and executioner in the streets, and that they are held accountable for their actions. All citizens have reason to be grateful that someone is doing this difficult work. Good police officers would recognize this, and would be grateful that he had gotten a bad one off the street. But it is beginning to appear less likely that there are a lot of good cops around.
Some people accused Adam of “setting up” the cop, and blamed him for “ruining a fine officer’s career.” However, a “fine officer” would never have done what this officer did, and if you think otherwise, you clearly need to watch that video. Remember, Adam did nothing illegal. Yet he was assaulted with pepper spray, illegally arrested, and then assaulted some more in police custody. If you think that it was unfair of Adam to be “setting up” that officer, as his detractors suggested, then I humbly ask what you think it is that police officers are doing when they are hiding along the highway looking for speeders, or when they are performing sting operations. They are, in fact, “setting people up” in order to catch citizens breaking the law and to see that they are held accountable for breaking the law…to discourage them and others from breaking the law again. In other words, exactly what Adam was doing when he drove through Saratoga Springs testing police officers’ adherence to the law.
Again, the reason Adam was out there in the first place was that he had heard numerous complaints from people who said that they were being treated poorly by police in Saratoga Springs. So he was there to see what was really going on, and to ensure that police respected citizen’s rights. When he flipped officer Baker the bird, it was not to mindlessly harass a cop, it was to ensure that police were not harassing citizens who were not breaking the law, even when those citizens might be expressing themselves in ways that the police took personally. After all, you or I don’t get to go up and attack people when they say something to us that we don’t like; that’s called assault. And that’s a crime. Police officers are not above the law, they are expected to obey the same laws as the rest of us, and as many of us know, they do not always think so. It’s a thing that people often see themselves as above the law once they put on a badge.
In fact, the justice system itself encourages this dangerous belief, often treating police officers with kid gloves when they are caught breaking the law. I learned this as a child riding along with my dad – who is a retired police officer. Any time he got pulled over for speeding, all he had to do was open his wallet to flash that badge, and he was let off the hook, every time. Like every other officer. And when they commit more serious crimes, fellow officers are unlikely to arrest them, prosecutors are less likely to charge them, and judges and juries are less likely to convict them. Here is an officer who drove drunk to his ex girlfriend’s home to harass her, tried to break into her house with a screw driver, and then expected to be let off the hook because of his badge. To their credit, the officers in this case arrested him anyway. But when he got back to his own precinct, the chief of police assisted him in covering up what had happened for over a year. The same cop in that story also got away with shooting an unarmed accident victim to death because the man was bloody and in shock. (He and his fellow shooter in that incident claimed to have “feared for their lives” because they could have contracted a blood borne pathogen from touching the man’s blood… so they shot him to death to make him easier for them to deal with. Both kept their jobs afterward. That story can be seen here.)
Yes, even when an officer kills an innocent and unarmed person, all they ever have to say is, “I feared for my life,” and they are generally let off scot-free, no matter how implausible it is that they had been the one fearing for their lives at the time they pulled that trigger.
So this was the kind of work that Adam did. He worked to bring about police accountability in a society where such accountability is both missing and sorely needed, for everyone’s well-being. He might not have catered much to a polite public image, but he fought the good fight, and his work in this region means that we are all a little safer from police harassment and violence than we were before he started putting officers on notice that they are being watched, that we expect them to obey the law like everybody else, and that there could be consequences when they fail to do so.
On another occasion, Adam sat on the steps of the Rensselaer police department, drinking root beer. He said the plan was to take a funny photo, but he was ready with a video cam when police inevitably approached to find out what was in the bottle. When he posted this video later, he called this incident “an epic troll of police,” in his typically brash manner. This was one of the things police officers, and their apologists, hated about Adam – that cat-and-mouse manner in which he would engage with them, always armed with a thorough understanding of his rights as a citizen. They bristled under the fact that he was generally more knowledgeable about applicable laws than the officers themselves, and very often something of a smartass about it. He was often a little gleeful about catching them with their pants down.
For instance, in this video, Adam stood outside a New York State police station, flying a camera-equipped drone around the facility. When a fresh-faced and somewhat untutored officer approached him to demand identification and ask his reasons for filming, Adam declined to provide either identification or information. The officer continued to demand his ID, and as the officer’s behavior began to escalate, Adam explained the law to him. The officer incorrectly dismissed Adam’s accurate articulation of laws that every police officer really should be familiar with. The altercation continued, with more officers arriving, until a supervisor finally approached from within the facility and politely set the officer straight. Indeed, Adam was correct. He had every right to be there, and was not required to provide ID. (No citizen is obligated to provide identification to any police officer unless that officer can articulate a reasonable belief that the citizen has committed, or is about to commit, a crime. The crime has to actually be a real one, not one that the officer fabricated.) Once the red-faced rookie was schooled in front of Adam and his camera, Adam trained the camera on the crestfallen cop.
“So…you were wrong?” Queried Adam.
“According to my supervisor, yes,” stated the officer, humbly looking down for a moment.
“So you learned something today… That’s good,” said Adam, as he continued to film the officer’s ignominious retreat.You can see how a guy like that might have gotten under their skin. He tended to use their own ignorance to make fools of them, and that did not make him a popular guy with the police state. But being cocky is not a crime, so their irritation with him resulted in a festering sense of impotence. Officers took to publicly complaining about him, insulting him, and occasionally threatening him over social media. He was repeatedly doxxed, until no news story about him was complete without someone – often multiple someones – posting his home address online in what amounted to vague (and sometimes not at all vague) threats against his safety, his well-being, and his life. Some of that doxxing came from police officers (or at least people whose social media pages suggested they were police officers).
Officers came to recognize him on sight, and routinely harassed him, but even at that, he generally had the letter of the law, if not the support of those who are supposed to uphold it, on his side.
Last September, he was arrested under highly questionable circumstances, after he flew his drone over the capitol building in Albany. The lightweight drone accidentally bumped into a chimney and crash-landed on the capitol roof. Police confiscated the drone, and charged Adam with Reckless Endangerment in the 2nd Degree and Reckless Endangerment of Property. Legal experts were dubious, pointing out that he had not actually violated any laws, and that this was just an attempt to harass, discredit, and silence him, as well as to steal his equipment. Eventually, according to Capital District CopBlock, the charges were dropped, and with the assistance of an attorney, Adam got his drone back.
Adam did a lot of this kind of work. You can read about some of it here, on three pages of archived articles and videos compiled by Capital District CopBlock in the week after he died.
Silencing the Story
There is something very familiar to me about the drone incident, where he was arrested on false charges and had his equipment seized. I used to work with a video collective that told the stories not being told in the corporate media, and we occasionally provided cop-watching assistance to people who needed or requested it. (See this page for a handful of examples of the word we did.) Members of the collective frequently had issues with police arresting or attempting to arrest them and confiscating their equipment under false charges that were later dropped, but that served to harass us and to silence and disrupt our ability to get the stories out.
Often, police would hold onto our equipment for an inordinately long period of time after the (false) charges were dropped. It always took a lawyer to get the equipment back (and thank God for activist lawyers like Stu Sugarman, who worked for us for free in the service of justice). In one case, it took more than a year for one of our videographers to get his camera back, and in another case, a colleague had his camera permanently damaged by police, who intentionally struck it with a nightstick. Still another of our members had his case go up the legal ladder, where he won a landmark case clarifying that citizens do, in fact, have the right to record police officers’ actions, and police may not interfere with that right. Others had their cameras pepper sprayed, point blank into both the lens and the videographer’s face. Back on the west coast, I had an incident where four officers chased me through a demonstration and attempted to arrest me for having filmed them. Another time, I was given a photograph, taken inside a police station, of a fake “wanted” poster apparently hanging on a police bulletin board, with my face (taken from a still in one of my films) and the words “Wanted, Dead or Alive, Preferably Dead” written in the margins. And right here in Albany, officer Glenn Szelest once attempted to seize my camera, trying to knock it out of my hand to stop me from filming him violating the law.
When I worked in the video collective, we knew this game, and it was an integral part of the work that we did. We always had backup plans. Because, as with Adam, although the law was on our side, the officers who were supposed to be upholding the law often were not. We all knew that this meant that what we were doing could be very dangerous, and that police were a danger to our equipment, our footage, and ourselves. But we did it anyway, because this is important work. Democracy cannot function without transparency and accountability. We have no democracy at all when we have an unaccountable police state, operating without oversight.
In our collective, we were careful to film surreptitiously when we could, we almost always covered each other by having more than one camera going at any given time, and we made it a priority to keep our footage, our cameras, and ourselves out of the hands of the police state. Unarrests were common, and we actually had runners during demonstrations and police riots, whose only job was to circulate through the melee, picking up footage from videographers the moment it came out of the camera, and then running that footage out of the area to a safe place before returning for more, because we knew very well that the first thing the oppressor ever does is attempt to control the story.
To digress on that point for just a moment here, humans create a shared reality through the stories that we tell, and a lot of power rests in being able to control the story. Cruel dictators never want the truth to get out. Just as repressive regimes often either buy off the media or else target journalists with arrest, torture, and execution in order to control the narrative by which citizens live, so the police state does its best to discourage any documentation of their lesser activities, and when that doesn’t work, they find other ways to neutralize and erase the truth about police corruption and violence. Thus, when Eric Garner was murdered by New York city police officers, the only person to date to have gone to jail for that incident was Ramsey Orta, the man who shot the video of the killing.
Police are famous for seizing cameras, destroying footage, blocking cameras, threatening, arresting, and occasionally even murdering people taking footage of them breaking the law.
Sometimes, cops get caught with their pants down when they engage in this kind of evidence tampering. When Laquan McDonald was gunned down in the streets outside a Chicago Burger King, for example, surveillance footage that would have shown exactly what happened mysteriously vanished. Police had falsely claimed that Laquan had “lunged” at them, leading them to “fear for their lives” and shoot him to death. Their own dash cam video later exposed this to be a lie, but surveillance video from the restaurant where the murder took place might have been even more damning. A worker at the Burger King accused police of coming into the restaurant and deleting the footage. Both the police department and the district attorney denied that claim. And then… footage appeared from inside the restaurant, from a camera that police were unaware was recording them. It clearly showed officers tampering with the video equipment, just as the worker had said they’d done.
Many people have been brutalized, arrested, beaten, and some have even been shot for daring to film and expose police brutality. For instance, this person was assaulted and arrested for filming police brutality, this person was beaten and arrested for recording them as they arrested her husband, and in this case, an advisor to New York mayor Bill De BLasio was arrested by NYPD for videotaping an arrest of a homeless man. They don’t always stop with beatings and arrests, either. This man was actually shot by California Sheriff’s deputies as he stood in his own garage filming them, after they had swarmed into his neighborhood to arrest a neighbor.
So the police really do not like to be held accountable for their actions, they do not like people who document their bad behavior, and they have actually used lethal force against people for filming them on more than one occasion. Thus, given this penchant, along with the nature of the threats and rage expressed by police against Adam Rupeka, a man who made a career out of exposing police misconduct and agitating for police accountability, we have reason to be asking some questions about Adam’s mysterious demise.
A Difficult Issue
Adam’s story took a strange and devastating turn in late March, when he and his girlfriend, Jennifer Ogburn, were both arrested early one morning for allegedly touching a teenager inappropriately. Both were charged with misdemeanors as a result of these allegations. Adam maintained his innocence, but the media and his detractors made a lot of hay over the arrests. Only later did it come to light that the accuser was the daughter of Adam’s estranged wife, that she had apparently come to the home at the direction of her mother, and that there may have been ulterior motives behind the allegations in that he and his estranged wife (who had a young son together) were in the middle of a bitter divorce at the time. It has also been reported that the accuser had made similar allegations in the past, against other people, that later turned out to be false. Adam maintained his innocence, as did Jennifer.
This is a difficult issue for me to cover as a woman, as a friend, and as a journalist, because I simply do not know what happened, and am not comfortable speculating publicly either way. Adam denied the charges, and there is some evidence to support his claims of innocence. For what it’s worth, the man that I knew did not seem like someone who would have done such a thing. However, I am also aware that people often do not want to believe allegations of sexual abuse, and so victims are often disbelieved. Thus, without more information, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to speculate about these charges, especially as he was a friend of mine, and therefore I could not be objective about this. It is necessary to mention this part of the story here, though, since this is what set in motion a chain of events that ended in Adam’s death, and the death of Jennifer Ogburn. It is also necessary for me to say that, whatever happened, and whatever we may think about the charges, the fact remains that there are a lot of suspicious questions regarding Adam’s death, and whether he did or did not commit this crime, the answers to those questions could have very important implications about the nature of the police state in this country.
A Strange Unraveling
The media and Adam’s detractors had a field day in the wake of his arrest. People who had hated him for his copwatching activities suddenly felt vindicated for all their vicious character attacks upon him during the time that he was active with Capital District CopBlock. There were immediate (and bizarre, given the circumstances) calls for Nathan Baker to be reinstated as a Saratoga Springs police officer – since, apparently in some minds, an allegation of abuse against Adam somehow erased the fact that officer Baker had violated the law, exceeded his authority, abused and falsely arrested a citizen, and then abused that citizen further in jail, all of which was captured on video.
In any event, Adam was reported to have bailed himself out of jail on the misdemeanor charges shortly after being arrested, and he returned to bail out Jennifer. And this is where the story starts to get really, really weird.
The two of them were due in court later that week. Legal experts agree that, even in the event they had been found guilty on the misdemeanors with which they had been charged, it was highly unlikely that either would have done any jail time. It was also unlikely that any fines or other costs associated with these charges would have exceeded the $10,000 in bail that they collectively handed to the courts to ensure they show up for their hearings. So there was little reason, at least according to legal experts, for the couple to have fled, forfeiting their bail, due to a couple of misdemeanor charges.
They did, though. For some reason.
Had they quietly skipped bail and disappeared, they might never have been found, since police rarely put much of a priority on capturing petty criminals over misdemeanor charges. However, nothing about Adam Rupeka was ever quiet, and due to his cop-watching activities, police were unlikely to have viewed this as a “petty” case. (Indeed, the attitude of now-retired Captain John Cooney of the Troy police seems to be indicative of many officers’ feelings on the subject. Cooney had long been an outspoken critic of Adam and his work, and appeared in the media to have a special ax to grind. He had always seemed to take Adam’s actions very personally, and after the arrest Cooney was quite in favor of punishment of some kind, even without any trial having taken place yet.)
Adam was not due in court until April 1. But by March 26, bizarre posts began appearing on Jennifer Ogburn’s facebook page, already suggesting the two had jumped bail. The media was quick to pick up on these posts. In between painful declarations of the pair’s innocence and allegations against their accuser, Ogburn informed the public (and it was public, as she had left her privacy settings wide open) that she and Adam were on the run. She indicated that they were in Canada. On the 27th, she posted, “We are never coming home,” and tagged Adam, showing their location as being in Edmonton, Canada. Someone commented beneath this post, “No offense but, why wld u check urself in where ur hiding?” Good question. Jennifer (or someone using her account) responded, simply, “It is out of the country.”
This was short-sighted, to say the very least, since Adam’s court date was not until the first of April. If they had really decided to just make a run for it, they could have had a five day head start before anyone even knew he was missing. But instead of quietly taking advantage of such a lead, she was on facebook declaring their bail-jump and pretty much inviting police to come looking for them. Friends of hers on facebook began suggesting that this might be a bad plan, and some suggested she not be on there telling everyone where they were. Someone pointed out that police could certainly read her posts, and that if they were captured in Canada, they would just be sent back to stand trial in the US. Jennifer responded, “Yes we understand this.”
Again, the charges they were facing were only misdemeanors, and not only would they have been unlikely to face jail time, the Times Union pointed out that they would not have even been required to register as sex offenders for such minor charges. Adam, who had always made a point of understanding the law better than police, and who had access to legal advice from several supportive attorneys, would have known this. Why run, then? Any why start posting to social media, giving up valuable lead time, and possibly leading police to your whereabouts?
On March 28th at 9:52am, a comment posted from Jennifer’s account read, in part, “Adam knows that if he goes to jail they are going to kill him. When we first arrived at the jail the cop wanted to ‘take him outside’ I heard him; Adam doesn’t even know about this. You can’t go around pissing off cops and corrections officers and expect that they are not going to be after you. No way would either of us get a fair trial or be treated fairly in any manner. The judge, she set our bail at 5000 she hates Adam already. We are never going to be safe until we either get away or [accuser’s name] admits that no one hurt her.”
Then, on March 28th, this video was uploaded to Adam’s YouTube channel. He had apparently recorded it on March 26th. In the video, he claims to be on the run for his life, saying, “This is all because of everything that I have exposed of police doing.” He says that he came home to find 3 black SUVs outside his home, with plain clothed police officers coming in and out of his home. He said he did not know why they were there, and it was then that he became afraid for his life and fled. Beneath the video, the “about” section says, “Day one on the run. The police are trying to kill me or send me to jail. I have no doubt that they will try to kill me out or in jail. When I make it to another safe spot I will go into more detail. This is the police state.”
A day later, a post saying, “I hate snow” was posted from Jennifer’s account on facebook, and this video was posted to Adam’s YouTube channel, suggesting that the two fugitives had crossed the border into Canada on March 27th, Easter Sunday.
It was at this point that I finally decided to contact him. I had been just watching the story unfold, astonished and not knowing what to think about it, but I became concerned as the videos and facebook posts continued to clumsily elaborate his “whereabouts.” It was fairly obvious to me that the Canada story was being faked, and I figured that if I could see that so easily, surely so could police. An experienced cop-watcher like Adam would have known better than to be telling the police state where he was, especially as Canada is not that far and fugitives captured in Canada are easily extradited to the United States. He was leaving too many obvious bread crumbs. But an experienced cop-watcher should also have realized that posting bullshit to Facebook and/or YouTube in an effort to throw off police would have been the digital equivalent of just tossing out a fluorescent trail of bright red paint behind himself as he fled. Investigators can easily pop the hood on these sites to figure out where someone is posting from. What on earth was going on?
So I contacted Adam to suggest he get a good lawyer, if he didn’t already have one, and to put him in touch with some good investigative journalists who might be able to help him figure out what was going on and get out the truth. Since he and Jennifer had both been facebooking, I privately messaged him that way, telling him NOT to discuss the details of the case or his whereabouts with me or with anyone other than his lawyer, and I also suggested he should not message me back, telling him that I did not expect a reply.
“The charges are bs but I don’t stand a chance. If you have seen the news and my posts I and my gf have left the country. More videos soon as to why and a lot of back story. But so far we are doing good. Every other country is the same just a different language lol”
I again suggested he get a good lawyer, and again offered to put him into contact with some good journalists who are supportive of police accountability. I gave him the name of a journalist I thought he should contact immediately. To my knowledge, he never did. Instead, he responded:
That was the last I heard from him. No “very long story” emerged from him on the following day, nor on the day after that, nor at all. Three days later, he was dead.
Misplaced Trust in the Corporate Media
I had been immediately dubious of his assertion that the corporate media would be compelled to tell his story. I had been a media activist and an independent journalist for a long time, and I’ve seen the corporate media sit on some huge stories, when those stories did not support the goals and narratives of the police state. Indeed, the more I have watched the difference between what really happens in the world and what corporate media reports about it, the harder it is for me to deny that the corporate media seems to be functioning as the PR wing for the police state. I have seen many things that you would have thought the media would “have no choice but to air,” that they never aired. And I have seen many incidents that corporate “journalists” appear to have intentionally misreported.
For just a few examples: I once heard a story in the media about a “naked man” who was shot to death by police “after he could not be subdued with a taser.” They made the victim out to be some kind of insane, drugged out monster-man, who “had to” be shot because he did not succumb to less lethal weapons. My first thought, upon hearing this, was that if the man was naked, police would obviously have known before they shot him that he was unarmed (which he was). This deserved some questions. But the corporate “reporters” were not asking any. Instead, they were parroting exactly what the Public Information Officer had told them, and the only thing they had to add were repeated – and as it turned out, false – suggestions that the victim was “on drugs” and a few dehumanizing chuckles over the “crazy” man who died naked in the street. As an independent journalist without their big budgets and their news choppers and their high end equipment, I decided to look into it myself, and THIS is what I discovered.
Similarly, I have watched police beat and pepper spray, assault and illegally arrest people, right in front of “news” cameras, but when the stories appeared on television, the narrative had utterly changed. See, for example, this video that compares what our cameras caught with what appeared later on TV.
You don’t have to have been a media activist to have witnessed this for yourself, though. If you’ve ever attended a demonstration, chances are you’ve seen it. When war broke out between the US and Iraq, I was in Portland, Oregon, where more than 10,000 people took to the streets in a massive uprising in protest against the war. The same thing was happening in cities all over the country. But the corporate media that night reported that the “largest demonstration in the country” was around 450 people in San Francisco. On another occasion, a million people marched on Washington DC, and not one word about it appeared in the media. If it does not suit the State Agenda, the corporate media is never compelled to tell any story.
So it was not really a surprise to me that nothing was ever aired in the media on the following day, as Adam had expected, telling his side of the story. But it was a little fishy that no video or story by him ever appeared anywhere else, either. Nothing more was ever posted on his YouTube channel, nor on the cop block page, nor anywhere else. Adam was a consummate storyteller – virtually everything important that happened to him went on video, and was written about and posted online by him. Why the radio silence now, after leaving such an apparently intentional trail?
A Mysterious Ending
On April 5th, the Times Union in Albany reported that police were investigating a tip that Adam and Jennifer might be in Mexico, and on the same day the Tijuana newspaper Zeta broke the story that they had been found dead there. According to the media, the couple had checked into a cheap hotel room in Tijuana on April 2nd, and had been found dead by hotel staff on April 3rd. (Adam was dead when they were discovered, Jennifer was allegedly still alive but unresponsive, and she died shortly after being transported to the hospital.) The unfolding narrative changed several times over the next few days. The couple allegedly OD’d, intentionally. At first, it was rumored to have been a heroin overdose, which was inconsistent with Adam’s usual character – friends and family members, including his estranged wife, all noted that Adam was not a drug user. The cause of death was later amended to an intentional overdose of the prescription anti-anxiety drug Clonazepam, also known as Klonopin.
This is a strange drug to have used for a suicide, particularly in a city known for its easily accessible and inexpensive heroin. While Klonopin has been called by at least one writer “America’s most dangerous pill,” it earned that label more for the lingering and life-destroying addiction that it can lead to than for its OD potential. One can certainly overdose on it, as Adam and Jennifer did according to toxicology reports, but it takes some doing, it’s not a sure thing, and there are much easier ways. But who am I to quibble over the method someone might use for suicide… especially when there are so many other glaringly odd details regarding this “suicide” that, when taken together, send me chills to think about.
For instance, there is the way that they allegedly said goodbye. The only “suicide note” reported to have been found with the bodies was scrawled in lipstick on the hotel mirror. According to a second article appearing in Zeta on April 7, the message read, “TAKE OUT IDS+ MONEY GET RID OF BODYS NO ONE KNOKS WE EVER IN MEXICO SORRY”[sic]. This would seem to indicate that they had wanted to disappear without a trace, that they were still playing cat-and-mouse with authorities, that they wanted their deaths to be a mystery. But… then why would they not have simply gotten rid of their own IDs themselves, before taking the drugs they allegedly overdosed on? That seems like a strange move to make for someone wanting to cover their tracks behind themselves.
Then again, subsequent reports in New York papers quoted the goodbye note as saying, “Take our identifications and give them our bodies. Nobody knows we’re in Mexico.” Those are important differences… either they wanted their bodies gotten rid of, or they wanted them handed over, with ID, to authorities. I tend to believe the initial report in the Mexican newspaper, as they were closer to the event. But either way, that’s not the kind of “goodbye” Adam Rupeka would have left.
I keep coming back to this one thing that stands out to me as most glaringly out of place: Why would this be the only goodbye message left by the infamously verbose and always-filming Adam Rupeka? Why no video-taped final manifesto? What ever happened to that “very long story” he had promised to tell? And come to that, where was his camera? His phone? Neither is listed, at least in any media articles I have come across, among the items that were found in the hotel room with them at the time their bodies were discovered. Instead, only the IDs they allegedly did not want anyone to find with them, some empty bottles, and two empty baggies with some kind of “residue” inside them. (I make room for the possibility that a camera or cell phone may, in fact, have been found and was just not listed in the media. I’ve attempted to contact family to find out, but so far no one is talking.) Either way, where is the video? Why has no long note, or recorded message, ever surfaced?
This was a man who filmed absolutely everything. Who had a lot to say on everything that happened between himself and the police state. He had said that he was scared of the police, that he was on the run because he was in fear for his life. He believed that they were trying to hurt him. He said he was going to post more video that would “tell the whole story.” Anyone who knows Adam knows that he would, indeed, have made that video, that he would have fought that fight.
It seems suspicious to me, to say the least, that Adam would not have left more than just a one-sentence non sequitur advising hotel staff to get rid of his ID and body. (He surely would have realized that wasn’t going to happen.) The fact that the message was scrawled in lipstick on a mirror would only really make sense if someone else had actually written it, in an effort to cover up a murder. This would have been a particularly convenient way to cover a murder if the killer wanted it to look like a suicide but did not know what either victim’s handwriting was supposed to look like. After all, it would be very difficult to analyze handwriting from a sample written in chunky lipstick on glass. The fact that the message ended in an apology is also peculiar. What was he sorry about? The mess? He would certainly not have been apologizing for a misdemeanor crime in the US that he steadfastly denied ever committing. That would not have been like Adam at all.
Additionally, if they believed that no one knew where they were, as stated in the note, then why kill themselves? They’d allegedly fled all that way for their safety, and as far as they knew if that note was correct, they were getting away with it. So again, why the suicide? As a friend of Adam’s noted, “They could have just killed themselves in Troy.” Why travel 3000 miles to do it, promising to provide a “very long story” that never turned up?
Nothing about this story, or its ending, makes sense. I’ve tried to climb into Adam’s mind to figure out what he could have been up to. All those strange bread crumbs to Canada… what was he doing? Did he ever even leave Troy? (The Adam I knew would have been hiding in or near his home, pretending to be away, just to see what the police might do. Maybe he was?) Was he having a mental health crisis? (Klonopin can, in very rare cases, inspire suicidal ideation. If one of them had recently been prescribed this drug for anxiety, maybe this is why the suicide? But… why both of them?)
As strange details continued to surface, I have grown increasingly suspicious that Adam might have been murdered. I have begun to wonder whether the person I was messaging, via Adam’s facebook account, was even really him at all. Maybe he was already dead or in custody somewhere when those messages were exchanged? Could someone else have been posting to Adam’s and Jennifer’s facebook pages to throw off the public? Where and when and how did they really die? (The “why” seems pretty self explanatory. Adam was pissing off the police state and exposing police misdeeds, in a region where corruption and extra-judicial murder by police are not unknown. In fact, I live just around the block from the apartment building where the infamous Legs Diamond was murdered the night after he won a court case against him and humiliated the Albany police in the press. Although that murder was never officially solved, it has long been assumed and all but proven that it was three Albany police officers who killed Diamond.)
Could police have killed Adam and Jennifer? Were they ever even alive in Mexico at all? Everything is a question mark now. And I do not have the resources nor the connections to chase down the answers. My hope is that someone who does might find this story compelling enough to follow up. Because the only facts that we know clearly are these:
- Adam was a police accountability activist, and that work caused him to be hated by many police officers, who were quite blatant about insulting and threatening him.
- He posted a video saying that he was on the run, and that he was afraid of police, that they were out to get him because of the work he had been doing.
- Adam said he was going to tell a long story about what was really going on, and it would have been very inconsistent for him not to have done so.
- No video ever appeared.
- He was reported dead in Mexico on April 3.
- He apparently left no note, no manifesto, no video behind to explain why he would commit suicide. This is extremely inconsistent with his character.
And, there’s one more thing.
After he died, when I began to suspect that the person who had messaged me from his facebook account might not have really been Adam, I sent him a message. Just to see whether anyone would log into his account and check his messages. And on April 6, …someone did.
Three days after he died, after the investigation had concluded that his death was a suicide, before anyone in his family got any of his things back… someone checked his facebook messages. It wasn’t just that facebook was left on somewhere, because I sent two messages. The first went unchecked for hours, and I realized that it was short enough that it could be read without having to open it. So I sent a second message, thinking that it would be more likely for someone to get curious and open it, if they could see that there were 2 messages (because only the first would show up without actually clicking on the message). And it worked. Someone opened the message that night.
Adam was very private, and I’m told by his colleagues that he was the only one with his facebook password. But three days after he died, someone checked his messages. Who was it? And why?
I don’t like that there are so many unanswered questions hanging in space at the end of this story. It’s my hope that someone with the time, resources, skills and connections to fully investigate this will take it up from here. In the meantime, if anyone has any information you would like to share regarding Adam and what happened to him, please feel free to drop me a line. You can email me or leave a message below. If you would prefer that your comments not be made public, say so in the message, as all comments are moderated prior to being posted, and I will not post through any that the commenter would prefer to keep private.