Rogue cop fired at last; is it over?

Well, it took two years to do it, but yesterday Mayor Brian Stratton of Schenectady finally fired po

Well, it took two years to do it, but yesterday Mayor Brian Stratton of Schenectady finally fired police officer John Lewis. No fault of Stratton’s that he didn’t do it earlier, his hands having been tied by state law, the police contract, and most recently a court ruling that blocked him from disciplining officers through the city’s own process.

But now it’s done, and Lewis, currently an inmate in the Schoharie County Jail, where he lately distinguished himself by punching out a window, is no longer a cop.


After six arrests in under two years, it’s done.

True, Lewis won an acquittal on his most serious DWI charge, which didn’t necessarily mean he was innocent, only that it was difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was drunk at the time of an accident because fellow officers helpfully gave him a ride home afterward without testing him for alcohol, but he still faces felony charges for allegedly stalking and threatening his ex-wife. Also for another drunk-driving accident, alleged.

Stratton was obliged to follow the cumbersome process provided for by Civil Service law and appoint an outside hearing officer to hear the case, which had to be closed to the public, just as the hearing officer’s own report is closed to the public, but Stratton said in the end he simply followed the report’s recommendation.

He told a news conference at City Hall yesterday that the record showed, “Officer Lewis has clearly placed his own interests above those of the public he swore to protect and to serve. Time and again, he has acted with complete and utter disregard for the law and for the authority of his superior officers in the department.”

I disagree with him and apparently with the hearing officer that cops are held to “a higher standard of conduct” by virtue of their jobs.

I believe the opposite is more often the case, that they get special breaks. The rest of us would be satisfied if they were simply held to the same standard as the rest of us, so that when they hit a parked car at 4:30 in the morning they would have to account for themselves and not just get a friendly ride home from other cops without taking a Breathalyzer test. But the result is the same, in this case.

Call it a higher standard, or call it the same standard.

Both Stratton and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett expressed frustration at the expensive and dilatory process they had to plow through in order to accomplish their end, citing in particular the decision by Judge Barry Kramer last year blocking them from running their own disciplinary proceeding.

“I would have preferred a much more expedited process, a less expensive process, and certainly a more open and transparent process,” Stratton said.

Now let’s see if Lewis contrives to drag it out further with an appeal.

Letters to cardinal

Given my ongoing interest in matters ecclesiastical, I have been studying the latest case of Pope Benedict XVI allegedly dragging his slippered feet in a case of child sex abuse. And I refer to the case of Father Stephen Kiesle in California. Father Kiesle was accused of tying up a couple of boys and engaging in sex acts with them in 1978, a charge to which he pleaded no contest, drawing a three-year suspended sentence plus three years probation.

Here is the timeline of churchly correspondence in the case.

* April 25, 1981: The pastor of his church writes to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the Vatican, recommending “laicization” of the priest, which is the official term for what the rest of us call defrocking. He refers obliquely to “some improprieties.”

* May 5, 1981: The chancellor of the Oakland Diocese follows up, writing to the same body that Kiesle “became involved in questionable relationships with children” and referring to the “eventual difficulty that Father Kiesle had with the law.”

He mentions the widespread publicity that the case engendered and says, “I do not feel it would be prudent for the Church to allow him to continue in ministry.”

* June 19, 1981: The bishop of Oakland (higher yet) writes directly to Pope John Paul II, requesting the defrocking of the priest and spelling out that Kiesle was “arrested by the police and charged with having taken sexual liberties with at least six young men ranging from eleven to thirteen years of age.”

* Nov. 17, 1981: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asks for more information.

* Feb. 1, 1982: The bishop of Oakland writes directly to the head of the aforementioned Congregation, Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI), sending the additional information, and saying, “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry.”

* Sept. 24, 1982 (eight months later): The Oakland Diocese writes to Cardinal Ratzinger to “inquire as to the status of the petition.”

* Oct. 21, 1982: Someone from the Congregation writes to the Oakland Diocese “stating (rather curtly) that the matter would be examined at an opportune time,” as characterized by an official of the diocese in a memo to the bishop.

* Jan. 17, 1984 (15 months later): The bishop of Oakland writes to another official of the Congregation, expressing the hope that something can be done about defrocking Kiesle, saying, “It would be impossible really to have him back trying to serve in the ministry.”

* Sept. 13, 1985 (20 months later): The bishop of Oakland writes directly to Cardinal Ratzinger, “I would appreciate knowing the progress of this case.”

* Nov. 6, 1985 (41⁄2 years after the first request for defrocking): Ratzinger writes to the bishop, in Latin, saying it is “necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church,” not just that of the petitioner, and to consider also “the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of the faithful.”

And there the matter rested for another two years before Father Kiesle was finally “laicized.”

To me those letters tell us more about the church, and more about human nature, than all the catechisms you could study in a year.

Categories: Opinion

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