By Egypt Page
SUNY Brockport Alumni Justin Fernandez is inspiring and educating the next generation of students. The 2020 graduate is thriving in the education field and is now a special education teacher in the Bronx. But his journey from Brockport to the Bronx wasn’t easy.
After having his back against the wall, Fernandez would make it through adversity in early 2017. He would be put to the test and not one that’s given in class, but a test of his perseverance.
Fernandez was a sophomore at the time, at SUNY Brockport. He was on the collegiate football team and played as an O-lineman for the Golden Eagles.
Fernandez said he decided to go out with a couple of friends that night in March. Little did he know the party would end up in news headlines.
“My friends Pat and Kendell were having a party for their birthday at 44 Crossings. You already know how it gets in Brockport, it got too loud.” said Fernandez.
The Brockport Police Department (BPD) showed up at 44 Student Lane after receiving a noise compliant. Students said what they thought was a routine party bust, turned into a scene out of a movie.
“The cops said they were coming in because of a noise complaint. Basically, they were going into Pat’s house. My friend Pat was like ‘Yawl can’t just come into my house like that, everyone is leaving’.” said Fernandez
After a conversation with the cops, things started to escalate with Pat and BPD. Once Pat realized he was getting arrested for the gathering that took place at his home. Things got physical.
“So, when he realizes he’s getting arrested for having a party. He’s like ‘What? Get off me. What are you talking about?’ So, they tackle him to the ground. I’m by the door mediating, getting people out. All of a sudden I turn and they’re tackling Pat to the ground. After that I took out my phone, because this was like…early 2017. A lot of s–t was going on with police in our country. So recording is the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind. So, I start recording. Next thing you know, a cop is telling me ‘Back up’ multiple times and then proceeds to point his taser at me.”
The next following seconds would be traumatic for Fernandez.
“Then out of nowhere he pepper sprays me. Everyone started dipping out the house.”
“I was literally blinded and the only reason I got arrested is because I sat on the curb. Someone had helped me outside after getting pepper sprayed. When the cops came outside after they got done dealing with Pat. They was like ‘Oh, this the dude that we pepper sprayed’. Then they handcuffed me. We waited for the ambulance to come flush my eyes out. They did the best they could do and then next thing you know, they put me in this little cell at the Brockport Police Station. So, I’m like ‘What? That don’t even make no sense right now. Why am I here right now?’.” Fernandez said.
A young Justin Fernandez sat confused waiting in a cell, not knowing what was going on. Tired. His eyes red and swollen. He would soon know his fate.
“I honestly did not know what I got arrested for. Until I got to Monroe County jail, like all the way in Rochester (NY). At about 5 A.M. in the morning. They were like, ‘You’re here because you punched a cop’ and I’m like ‘I punched a cop!? Like what are yawl talking about’. I literally have a video, where I’m not even swinging at a cop. He just sprayed me in my face.” Fernandez exclaimed.
BPD Speak Out
After a series of reviews and reports filed with evidence. The BPD decided to speak out about the situation. Brockport Police Chief Daniel Varrenti stated that his officers wear body cameras and that all the evidence would be presented in court.
“I didn’t find any inappropriate actions… It was frustrating … if they talk to everyone but the person who can resolve the complaint” Chief Daniel Varrenti said.
At that time Chief Daniel Varrenti had also stated he had not received any complaints.
In the following weeks Fernandez would be kicked off the football team for breaking NCAA rules because he had a pending felony.
Fernandez would be suspended from on-campus activities and wouldn’t be able to attend classes for a whole month. Nor would he be able to use facilities on campus, such as the Drake Memorial Library or even the SERC. Even with all the major setbacks in a short amount of time, Fernandez would persevere. He managed to stay academically eligible and would bring in a 2.5 GPA that semester.
In the winter of 2020, he would finish his four years at SUNY Brockport and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. While also being a brother of The Ruthless Rho Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and a member of SUNY Brockport’s Men of Color, Justin Fernandez was able to become a student leader on campus. Post-graduation, Fernandez has found a passion and he is sticking to it.
“After losing football, the passion I gained was education. That’s what helped me become a teacher, because they tried to take my education away. And what was I going to do? Go home and live with my parents? And be like everyone else? I couldn’t do that. It made me appreciate education way more.”
Through thick and thin, Fernandez was able to persevere through his case and find lifelong passions. Fernandez said that if it weren’t for that predicament, he might not have been a teacher.
“Helping people and serving has always been a main thing I love doing. Talking to young people and help and try to make a effort. I will always do my part, I will never slack on it.