Town of Rotterdam, police department face lawsuit over arrest


A man who was falsely arrested by the Rotterdam Police Department for improperly submitting a photo for the sex offender registry list is now suing the department and the town over the four days he spent in jail.

William Harwood filed paperwork March 25 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York seeking a jury trial and damages after he said he suffered emotional distress from the incident. 

Harwood, who is representing himself, said in court documents that in 2018 he was required to provide the department with an updated photo for the registry, where he was listed as a Level 1 sex offender. 

“In 2018, Plaintiff insisted on coming into the state to take his updated photograph and submit it to the sex offender database,” Hardwood said in the court documents. “Officer Claude Sawyer, an employee of Rotterdam Police Department, instructed Plaintiff to not come into the police station and instead text a current photograph to Officer Sawyer’s phone.” 

It wasn’t until 2020 when another officer at the department was looking through the database that the department realized there was not an updated photo for Harwood. 

Harwood said he was brought in for questioning and that is when he explained what had happened.

“The officers refused to listen to Plaintiff, and did not ask Officer Sawyer for his account,” Harwood said.

Harwood was placed in jail on April 10. During his time in jail, Harwood said he gave his brother Sawyer’s email address. 

“Plaintiff’s brother emailed Officer Sawyer the weekend the Plaintiff was in jail and Officer Sawyer replied, admitting his mistake,” Harwood said. 

Harwood was released the following Tuesday and appeared in court later that week to have charges against him dropped. 

The incident led to an audit of the police department’s policies and procedures. Phase 1 of the audit is complete. However, the town has denied The Daily Gazette’s request to provide a copy of the entire Phase 1 report. The town did make available only the recommendations from Phase 1. 

They include: 

  • The police department created a written policy on the standard operating procedures for the town’s sex offender registry, including the responsibilities of the detective who oversees the registry and resources available to that officer. It should also include instructions on how to carry out the procedures for the registry and a process to follow should an incident involving the registry occur.
  • The department should implement quality assurance measures, which would be periodically applied to review the department’s compliance with registry procedures.
  • The department should design a training program highlighting the role, goals and objectives of the registry and that a segment of the department’s annual training cover compliance with the Sex Offender Registry Act.

A Phase 2 of the audit is under way and expected to be completed in April. 

Sawyer did not contest the notice of violation placed on his employee record and was disciplined by having eight hours of accrued time forfeited.

Harwood declined to comment when reached Wednesday, but said the plaintiffs had not been served the documents yet. 

Rotterdam Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone declined to comment, as did Town Attorney Kate McGuirl. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County


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