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Fired state trooper loses appeal, accused of sexually harassing women drivers

Friday, September 28, 2012
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— A state trooper from Johnstown who was fired for conduct in traffic stops involving four young women won’t get his job back, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The four women testified at a state police disciplinary hearing that Trooper Jeffrey C. Salatel either sexually harassed them or made inappropriate comments at traffic stops between May 2008 and November 2009.

Each of the traffic stops happened along the Thruway, one near Canajoharie. Salatel was based out of the Fultonville barracks.

Salatel was fired after a state police disciplinary hearing board found he used “the tactics of a predator,” noting the Canajoharie stop in particular.

In that November 2009 stop, Salatel had a 20-year-old Albany college student he’d stopped for speeding get into his patrol vehicle with the intention of obtaining a sexual act, the hearing board found. No sexual act occurred.

In another case, a college student testified that Salatel pulled her over for speeding during her trip from Hamilton College in Clinton to her home in Connecticut in May 2008. She said she asked him not to give her a ticket. Salatel responded that he would think about it, then returned to her car and “he repeatedly asked the woman to ‘show me your boobs,’ ” according to a memorandum filed Thursday by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.

After the disciplinary hearing, the hearing board recommended that Salatel be found guilty of 10 separate charges of misconduct and that he be fired. The state police superintendent then fired him.

Salatel, though, filed an Article 78 appeal, asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the termination.

The New York State Police was represented by the state Attorney General’s Office; Salatel was represented by attorney James B. Tuttle.

Salatel’s termination was effective in February 2011. He was hired as a trooper in 2001, listed in newspaper records as then hailing from Amsterdam. Hearing records indicate he currently is from Johnstown.

In its memorandum and judgment issued Thursday, the Appellate Division refused to overturn Salatel’s firing, noting previous precedent that they would not second guess credibility determinations.

“ … We conclude that the petitioner’s guilt is supported by the record and the Superintendent’s determination will not be disturbed,” the justices wrote.

“Finally, considering the nature of petitioner’s conduct, the penalty of termination does not shock our sense of fairness,” the justices added.

Salatel’s attorney indicated later Thursday that the ruling is the last step for Salatel. He has since started a new career driving an armored car.

Tuttle on Thursday questioned the state police investigation into the matters. He said the woman who claimed Salatel told her to show him her breasts had lied earlier in the stop about why she was speeding.

Her claims, while reported immediately, were also dismissed by state police at the time, Tuttle said.

It was only after the woman stopped in Canajoharie came forward that they revisited her claims, he said.

State police investigators also then pulled 600 of Salatel’s traffic tickets involving women, heard back from only 59 of those and then only found two others who reported that anything wrong happened, Tuttle said.

The woman going from Hamilton College home to Connecticut said she initially lied that she was speeding because she had just broken up with her boyfriend. She also cried because it was the first time she had been stopped.

Salatel said he would think about not giving her a ticket, left and then returned to her car, she testified in transcripts filed with the original case. Upon returning, he muttered something, then repeated it louder: “Show me your boobs,” she quoted him as saying.

“And he kept repeating it, but would never look at me when he said it,” she testified.

“So, I didn’t know what to do in that situation,” she testified. “He was the man in authority, so I didn’t know how to behave. I didn’t know the procedure for the situation, so I started crying again.”

She finally just requested he write the ticket so she could go home. When she got home, she and her mother reported the encounter to their local police department.

The Albany college student was stopped in Canajoharie 18 months later. While she was in her car, Salatel told her she was “a very pretty girl,” she testified.

He issued her a ticket, then suggested she work with him and asked if she wanted to step back to his patrol vehicle to see what he could do about the ticket, she claimed.

She took it as a demand. She also found it “really creepy.”

According to her testimony:

The first thing he did was push his seat all the way back. Soon, he stared at her chest. His hand also went to his belt, she heard moving. He also said he hoped she wasn’t in a hurry. She believed he expected her to offer oral sex.

“And that was definitely enough, at least for me to understand the implication, and him repeatedly saying, ‘You are not working with me. You are not helping me help you,’ ” she testified.

His behavior changed when she pulled out her phone, which she had kept with her, and motioned that she was going to call someone.

The disciplinary hearing board found each of the women credible and each lacking a reason to lie. The board also found Salatel “difficult to believe.”

The two other women testified to similar experiences. One woman testified Salatel suggested she “talk herself out of the ticket.” The other woman testified Salatel told her she should “try to sell yourself to get out of a ticket.”

The Appellate Division wrote that Salatel denied any wrongdoing in any of the four traffic stops, including denying saying anything inappropriate to the woman heading to Connecticut.

In the Canajoharie stop, Salatel contended the woman exposed her cleavage to avoid the ticket and he asked her to get into the patrol vehicle to detect whether she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There was also no sexual connotation to his conversation with her, according to the Appellate Division’s account.

 
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