Schenectady County

Ex-cop avoids jail in drug case

Retired city police detective Sherri Barnes was sentenced Friday to three years of probation after b

Retired city police detective Sherri Barnes was sentenced Friday to three years of probation after being found guilty in May of two misdemeanor counts related to misuse of prescription medication.

Barnes attended the proceedings with her husband, along with several family members and friends. Afterward, she embraced them.

Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago sentenced Barnes to probation after prosecutors advocated for 60 days of jail time, arguing that Barnes betrayed the trust of the people of Schenectady.

Barnes’ defense advocated for probation, citing a stack of 60 letters written on her behalf by family, friends and co-workers. The letters included one from her son. Barnes continues to maintain her innocence.

Drago said she weighed all the factors, foremost among them the 12-member jury’s finding of guilt. But the judge also noted that the court gives defendants in similar situations the chance at probation.

Barnes has no criminal history, the crimes she was convicted of were nonviolent and, the judge found, they stemmed from a substance abuse problem.

But for the addiction, such defendants are productive members of society, the judge noted.

“I am willing to give Mrs. Barnes a chance to address that,” Drago said.

The judge also noted that from the outset, prosecutors wanted her off the police force. That has been done. Barnes filed her retirement papers during closing arguments in May.

Barnes is to undergo a substance abuse evaluation as part of her probation. Her attorney, Paul DerOhannesian, said later that she has already undergone such an evaluation. The evaluation found nothing.

However, he said that Barnes would follow the terms of her probation.

Barnes was convicted in a trial in which the defense attempted to put the focus on police and state investigators.

Prosecution evidence included more than 2,600 phone calls between Barnes and her alleged drug supplier, all using Barnes’ Police Department-issued cellphone, along with video and pharmacy signature records linking Barnes directly with the supplier and the supplier’s medication.

Drago handed down the sentence after prosecutor Amy Burock advocated jail time.

“She betrayed the trust of the people of Schenectady and she had a higher duty than just an average person. She was a police officer,” Burock told the court.

Burock also argued that Barnes has had many chances over the years to address her problem but never took advantage of those chances.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney confirmed after the May verdict that prior to trial prosecutors sought no jail time but wanted her to seek treatment and offer her resignation.

DerOhannesian highlighted her record of service to the city and to others. He also said she would not be before the court again.

“The likelihood of her coming back and reappearing as a defendant and committing a crime again, assuming there was one committed here, is nil,” DerOhannesian said. “That’s not something you can say about most of the defendants who appear in front of you.”

Barnes didn’t speak at the sentencing. Instead, she relied on a letter she wrote that was given to the court.

In that letter, dated July 17, Barnes told the judge she didn’t want to appear arrogant or defiant and after the jury verdict she couldn’t be more humble.

“However,” Barnes wrote, underlining the next two words, “I do continue to maintain my innocence of the charges that have been brought against me.”

Barnes also gave a brief history of her life, starting when she was adopted as an infant. She also spoke of her son Nicolas as the one thing in her life that had given her more satisfaction than being a police officer.

Regarding her medications, Barnes told the judge she takes many prescription medications, which are prescribed by doctors for several medical reasons.

“This does not make me an addict,” Barnes wrote. “I have never knowingly misused or abused my medications. My prescription medications have never affected my job, and no one can honestly say otherwise.”

Included in the testimony at trial was that Barnes had taken 62 sick days in 2008 and 11 sick days from Jan. 1 to Jan. 16, 2009, the date Barnes was placed on administrative leave. The reason for the sick leave was not identified at trial.

Barnes was also previously injured in the line of duty.

Barnes was convicted of one count each of criminal diversion of prescription medicine and official misconduct, misdemeanors.

Barnes was accused of illegally purchasing friend Susan Jewett’s medication, the muscle relaxant Soma, and showing her badge to a pharmacist to speed up a transaction.

Prosecutors alleged that Barnes, 43, and Jewett would go to pharmacies and Jewett would fill the prescription and then give it to Barnes. Barnes had a prescription drug dependency that had been growing for several years, Burock contended.

Jewett testified that she turned over the medication to Barnes and Barnes either paid her with money or other items, including groceries.

The defense argued that many of the witnesses in the case, including Jewett, were addicted to drugs or testified only for a benefit. Barnes was only trying to help the woman, DerOhannesian repeated in his closing arguments on Wednesday.

Among the 60 letters was one from Barnes’ son, who is entering the ninth grade. “I don’t really understand why my mom has been punished or why she needs to be punished anymore,” the two-page typed letter signed Nick Barnes reads.

Other letters came from coworkers or those who knew Barnes.

Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber wrote one letter, telling of what he knew about her, including how she gathered donations from detectives to help a family during the holidays.

“I know Sherri’s crime must not go unpunished,” Seber wrote in a letter with no letterhead. “However, given the qualities of this individual I respectfully request any leniency you would consider.”

Prosecutor Burock noted in her review of the letters another one written on Schenectady County letterhead. Burock told the court she contacted the agency head and confirmed the letter was not the agency’s official position.

Ed Kosiur, assistant to the commissioner of social services, wrote a letter on county letterhead as a Barnes neighbor.

“I am sure she understands the seriousness of the actions she has committed; however, they do not reflect the kind of life she has led and is capable of living,” Kosiur wrote.

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