Schenectady County

Ex-Schenectady cop’s guns, property subject of dispute

The long saga involving disgraced former police officer John Lewis and the city of Schenectady is co

The long saga involving disgraced former police officer John Lewis and the city of Schenectady is continuing, now in the form of disputes over four guns once owned by Lewis, and the former contents of his departmental locker.

City officials and the attorney for a probation officer appeared in Schenectady County Court last week for arguments on what should happen to four guns previously owned by Lewis, now in police custody.

The city wants them destroyed as nuisance weapons, while the probation officer argues that Lewis sold the guns to her earlier this year and they should be released to her.

In the locker dispute, Lewis himself filed a notice of claim against the city last month, alleging that more than $3,300 in property from his locker went unaccounted for and unreturned to him.

He was unable to retrieve it himself after his 2008 suspension, he argues in the filing, because he wasn’t allowed back on department property.

The dispute involving the guns is directly between the probation officer, Theresa Knapik, and the city.

The story of the guns began in November 2008, after Lewis was charged with offenses against his estranged wife and she obtained an order of protection against him. With the order, Lewis was not allowed to possess any guns. He turned over four handguns.

Lewis secretly kept a fifth gun for sentimental reasons. That gun was the basis for a federal felony plea and 16-month sentence.

Lewis, 41, of Oregon Avenue, was released from federal custody in April. He is now under three years of federal supervised release.

The federal sentence capped a three-year saga where the one-time police officer was charged with a series of crimes related to his estranged wife and alcohol-related offenses.

In addition to the federal gun felony, Lewis also pleaded guilty to a felony computer tampering charge in state court, admitting to illegally going into his ex-wife’s email account.

After his initial April 2008 harassment charge and subsequent arrests, the city moved to fire Lewis, but the proceedings and the criminal cases became protracted with a number of delays.

All the while, Lewis stayed on the police books, alternately getting paid and suspended.

It got to the point where Lewis became the symbol of the perceived futility of trying to fire a police officer in Schenectady.

It wasn’t until April 2010 — two years after his legal problems began — that Lewis was fired.

The four guns at issue in Knapik’s claim remain in police custody nearly three years after they were first surrendered. The city contends it could have destroyed them after a year.

Knapik’s attorney Michael Braccini is arguing that they weren’t destroyed and that Lewis has now sold them to his client. That sale happened in March. Now his client wants her property.

In an affidavit signed by Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, the commissioner argues that Lewis had the right to sell the weapons by law within a year of surrendering them and that sale could only happen to a licensed dealer.

Lewis never sold them, until March 2011, 16 months after the deadline. And that sale was to a private person, not a dealer.

In the affidavit, Bennett also notes Lewis’ status at the time of the sale, as a felon.

“Parenthetically, Lewis, as a convicted felon, could not transfer these weapons without violating the penal law. As a convicted felon he is prohibited from possessing a firearm,” the affidavit reads.

If the weapons were given to Knapik, the affidavit suggests they might still be accessible to Lewis.

“The circumstances surrounding Mr. Lewis’s sale of these weapons to [Knapik] raises suspicion that they may have some personal relationship,” the Bennett affidavit reads.

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