Schenectady County

List of Schenectady cops facing firing up to 6

A sixth officer has been added to the mayor’s list of those facing termination.

A sixth officer has been added to the mayor’s list of those facing termination.

Dwayne Johnson, who regularly left his patrol to spend hours in an apartment, may be fired, Mayor Brian U. Stratton said.

Five other officers are facing that punishment as well: three officers accused of driving while intoxicated in off-duty incidents and two officers accused of beating a drunken man during an arrest.

Stratton said he wants the punishment to come quickly and fall as heavily as possible to send a message that “unprofessional” behavior will no longer be tolerated.

“We want to be swift and deliberate and clear the decks,” he said. “I think it’s important for us, at this critical time, to move as swiftly as we can. The faster we come to a resolution, the more the public knows we’re serious and the more their fellow officers know.”

But with that punishment comes quite a price tag. The months of work to research each case and then argue them in court will cost the city $185 per hour.

That’s how much the city will pay a private law firm to prosecute each officer. The Albany firm of Girvin & Ferlazzo has been hired to fight for the highest possible punishment in each case. James Girvin, a specialist in public sector employment law and labor relations, will run the prosecution.

Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett will judge each case, with the help of the city attorneys. They will provide legal advice.

The officers involved will be defended by their own attorneys.

Research for the first case alone will take a month, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said. The hearings themselves are expected to take two days each.

At an hourly rate, the legal costs will be tremendous, Stratton acknowledged.

“But we can’t afford not to,” he said. “That’s the price we continue to pay.”

Until the hearings, the city must also pay each suspended officer’s salary as well as other officers’ overtime to cover the disgraced officers’ shifts.

The city does get a slight break in the first 30 days of a suspension — it doesn’t have to pay suspended officers during that time. But disciplinary hearings are rarely convened within that time limit. Of the six officers, only Johnson is still on unpaid suspension.

Stratton said the cost to discipline the officers will put pressure on the 2009 budget, which was trimmed of $1 million to avoid a tax increase this year. The City Council trimmed the budget over the mayor’s warnings that unexpected costs could arise.

“There’s always unexpected things,” he said Wednesday. “That’s money we could have otherwise had to fund things like additional legal services.”

But he said the surplus from the 2008 budget — the amount of which has not yet been announced — could rescue this year’s spending plan.

And even if it doesn’t, Stratton said, the city must find ways to pay for the hearings.

“We have to afford it,” he said.

The six officers who may be fired are Darren Lawrence, accused of driving drunk, crashing in Colonie, fleeing the scene and beating a friend to keep him from reporting the incident; Michael Brown, accused of driving drunk, hitting another car, fleeing the scene and refusing a Breathalyzer test; John Lewis, accused of DWI, threatening to kill his ex-wife and numerous other charges; Gregory Hafensteiner and Andrew Karaskiewicz, accused of beating a drunken man during an arrest; and Dwayne Johnson, accused of leaving work four hours early on numerous Tuesdays.

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