Schenectady County

Schenectady to fire another police officer

The mayor will be firing another police officer today, sources said.

The mayor will be firing another police officer today, sources said.

Officer Andrew Karaskiewicz, who has been accused of beating a suspect after putting him in handcuffs, would be the second officer fired by Mayor Brian U. Stratton. He has been on paid suspension since January 2008, earning more than $145,000 to stay home from work.

Three other officers have agreed to resign in the past four months as the city’s two-year-long disciplinary process comes to a close.

Sources who asked to remain anonymous said Hearing Officer Jeffrey Selchick also recommended that Karaskiewicz be fired. Selchick turned in his recommendation last week.

Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden has asked Karaskiewicz’s attorney whether Karaskiewicz would be willing to resign rather than face his punishment. The attorney, Michael Ravalli, said his client would fight on.

Van Norden said he expects Ravalli to appeal.

Ravalli also filed a lengthy brief urging the mayor not to fire Karaskiewicz. Van Norden declined to discuss the details of the brief but said it was 20 pages long and criticized the way the city came to its determinations.

Ravalli did not return a call seeking comment about his criticism of the process.

City officials were incensed by the criticism.

“They agreed to it!” said Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett. “The mayor gave them more latitude than they would have had — normally the mayor would just pick the hearing officer. It could’ve been me.”

Instead, he said, Stratton asked the union whether it would support Selchick.

“They agreed to the individual,” Bennett said. “Now as the cases aren’t coming out the way they wanted to, they say the system is a failure. Just because the decisions don’t go your way doesn’t mean the system is nonworkable.”

He noted that the union objected to the city’s original plan, two years ago, to have discipline meted out by the public safety commissioner. The union also went to court to stop the city from holding public court sessions for each officer.

“This is what they said they wanted,” Bennett said. “Just what is it you do want? I’d be interested in seeing what system they would actually want.”

Van Norden said the mayor is expected to address Ravalli’s criticism and defend the city’s process during a press conference today. The mayor will announce Karaskiewicz’s discipline at 1 p.m. at City Hall.

Ravalli’s brief also discussed the allegations against Karaskiewicz, but Van Norden dismissed his arguments.

“It really was not anything new,” he said.

He added that he urged Ravalli to submit the brief.

“I said, ‘Look, this is your last opportunity to take a shot at this, and it’s your only chance to criticize the hearing officer,’ ” Van Norden said.

Ravalli took him up on it, Van Norden said.

After reading the brief, the mayor made the final decision on Tuesday, Van Norden said.

It was not clear why the mayor waited until today to announce the decision, but the last officer to be fired agreed to resign just hours before the mayor fired him.

Officers who are fired can appeal the decision, costing the city money and opening the possibility for another judge to send the officer back to the department.

Van Norden acknowledged that he’d rather accept a resignation.

“We do want to stop the bleeding wherever we can, avoid any future appeals and nail this thing shut,” he said.

But he said Ravalli told him resignations would be “unlikely.” Ravalli is paid by the police union to represent the officers facing termination.

Karaskiewicz’s suspension stemmed from a December 2007 arrest in which the suspect claimed he was beaten by more than one officer. The other officer involved, Gregory Hafensteiner, agreed to resign last month rather than be fired.

After his termination, the city released an in-car video showing Hafensteiner kicking the suspect, Donald Randolph, as Karaskiewicz pulled Randolph out of the patrol car.

Karaskiewicz had arrested Randolph on a drunk driving charge that later fell apart through lack of evidence. District Attorney Robert Carney said Karaskiewicz did not perform sobriety tests and never even saw Randolph behind the wheel of a car on Dec. 7, 2007.

Karaskiewicz arrested Randolph and handcuffed him. Then, for reasons that have remained unclear, Karaskiewicz drove him a few blocks away and called for a van to transport Randolph. Five officers converged on the scene.

As they arrived, Karaskiewicz told Randolph to get out of the car. As seen in the in-car video, Randolph told him loudly, “No!”

Karaskiewicz then grabbed Randolph by the neck with both hands, pulling his head toward the doorway while ordering him to get out.

Randolph said he would, though he appeared to be fighting Karaskiewicz’s neck-hold. Karaskiewicz let go and began pulling on Randolph’s feet, which Bennett said is the approved technique for moving a resisting prisoner.

At that point, Hafensteiner opened the opposite door and began kicking Randolph.

Karaskiewicz pulled Randolph out of the car and out of sight of the in-car camera. Randolph can be heard crying out, apparently in pain, at least three times before the end of the brief portion of video released to the public.

Randolph says he was beaten by multiple officers after Karaskiewicz took him out of the patrol car. Van Norden said there is no video of that incident, but noises can be heard.

“You can’t tell who was doing what,” he said.

The only punishments available under law are termination or a 30-day unpaid suspension.

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