Schenectady County

Link between Schenectady County Sheriff and troubled officer had tragic start

Daniel Coppola in 2018.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Daniel Coppola in 2018.

Daniel Coppola, the former patrolman who stands accused of his second drunken driving arrest, wasn’t only fired by his stepfather, Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino.

He was terminated by the man who helped convict his birth father’s killer decades ago.

Coppola, a former officer with the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department, was accused by Colonie police of driving under the influence of alcohol on April 26.

On May 3, the lawyer for the 26-year-old Coppola of Rotterdam pleaded not guilty on Coppola’s behalf in Colonie Town Court.

Authorities allege Coppola drove on a curb and nearly hit a utility pole with his car while more than twice the legal limit for drunkenness. His blood alcohol content was .2% — well over the legal limit in New York state of .08%. He told police he was driving home after he had consumed a couple of beers at a bar in Albany.

In the aftermath of the arrest, the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department said Coppola was terminated after an administrative review. The department said he had been an exemplary employee, with no other personnel issues there. Coppola’s union filed an appeal immediately upon his termination, according to Erin Roberts, spokesperson for the county. Calls to the union have gone unanswered.

Dagostino stated that any action short of terminating Coppola would undermine the integrity, credibility and legitimacy of the Sheriff’s Department.

The sheriff added in a statement that he was “disappointed and heartbroken over the actions of my son.”

The linkage between Dagostino and Coppola began early in the former patrolman’s life.

In November 1996, convicted ax-murderer Christopher D’Arton was sentenced to more than 27 years to life in state prison for killing Coppola’s birth father, Paul Coppola in 1995.

Dagostino at the time was an investigator for the Rotterdam Police Department, one of the police agencies involved in the investigation of Paul Coppola’s murder.

Coppola was 28 while his son Daniel was less than a year old at the time of his father’s killing on May 18, 1995.

D’Arton was an employee of Paul Coppola’s automotive business in Rotterdam.

Authorities said D’Arton killed his friend and boss at Paul Coppola’s used car dealership on Helderberg Avenue in Rotterdam.

Paul Coppola’s body was found days later, buried about 5 feet deep behind the auto shop.

During D’Arton’s sentencing, Paul Coppola’s widow, Margaret, described in court how Daniel and his older brother continued to wonder where their father was.

Speaking of Daniel, his mother told the court that he suffered even more because he’d never know his father except for what he learned of him in stories and saw in photographs.

After Daniel Coppola’s arrest by Colonie police, no one answered the door at his house in Rotterdam. He did not appear in court for his arraignment because of what his lawyer, Andrew Safranko, described as a medical issue.

When Dagostino was reached by phone recently, and was asked about his stepson’s tragic circumstances leading up to his arrest, the county sheriff said:

“I’ve commented all I’m going to comment regarding that incident,” he said. “I released a press statement the day that we were made aware and it had my comments, and we’re going to leave it at that.”

The former investigator with the Rotterdam Police Department became county sheriff in 2010.

The New York State Police was the lead agency in the investigation of the murder of Paul Coppola, but Dagostino participated, a prosecutor said.

When Dagostino was asked about marrying the victim’s widow in a case he investigated, the sheriff asserted: “I think you’re crossing the line a little bit,” later adding, “I don’t think it’s an appropriate route, and I’m kind of disappointed in you folks in doing that.”

Asked when he and Margaret Coppola married – marriage licenses are not a public document – Dagostino laughed, said goodbye and hung up.

District Attorney Robert Carney said he doesn’t think the relationship between Dagostino and Margaret Coppola began until after the D’Arton case was resolved.

Carney also recalled that state police took the lead on the case, which led to a confession by D’Arton.

“Dominic was a brand-new investigator,” the DA said. “He sat in. But it was primarily the state police that did that investigation.”

Carney said he doesn’t recall Dagostino making a disclosure to the DA’s office about his relationship with the victim’s widow, but Carney said he didn’t believe he would have had to.

“It ended up being a very successful union,” Carney said. “They’ve been married for a long time and they have their own son who’s in high school.”

John Kleinig, emeritus professor of philosophy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he can imagine that relationships between investigators and victim’s families happen from time to time.

Kleinig said most professional organizations – especially those that he described as “helping professions” – have codes of ethics that forbid professionals from entering into intimate relations with their clients or patients.

Such relations cloud the judgment on both sides, especially when vulnerable people are involved, Kleinig suggested.

“I would think that some such understandings should also underlie investigative practices,” Kleinig said, and there is a conflict of interest concern.

“That doesn’t mean it’s wrong but that it may convey the wrong message — one involving bias. Appearance of conflict of interest is also a problem in the public domain,” Kleinig said.

But some professional organizations put a time limit on the constraint, the professor noted. For instance, the professional relationship must have been terminated at least two years beforehand, lest there be a suspicion of residual taint, he cited as an example.

Kleinig said it should probably be reported in serious cases.

History repeated

Daniel Coppola was previously arrested for driving while impaired in May 2018, when he worked for the Schenectady Police Department. He was accused, while off duty, of driving with a blood-alcohol level of .12%.

Coppola’s lawyer did not return a recent phone message. But Safranko has said his client’s first arrest resulted in a non-criminal disposition.

When Safranko was asked after the arraignment if his client has a problem with alcohol, given the two drunken driving arrests while he held jobs in law enforcement, the lawyer said it was too early to get into those types of strategies and mitigating factors.

Carney, the district attorney, said he hasn’t spoken to Dagostino about his stepson’s arrest in Colonie and subsequent termination from the sheriff’s department.

“But I think he did the right thing,” Carney said. ‘“It’s unfortunate. I’m sure it was difficult for him because he really did raise those two boys.”

Daniel Coppola worked for Schenectady police as a patrolman from July 2015 until he left the organization four months after his alcohol-related driving arrest in Schenectady, on Sept. 8, 2018.

His former boss, Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford, described Daniel Coppola as an exemplary employee while he was working. But he acknowledged the 2018 arrest somewhat blemished his time with the department.

“I have no issues of the job that he did,” Clifford said. “Very respectful. For my knowledge, no complaints from the public.”

Clifford said the department held Daniel Coppola accountable for the off-duty drunken driving arrest by levying a 30-day suspension without pay.

“He did not fight it. He came back after taking his punishment with a good attitude. He never complained; didn’t become a poison to the agency. And then, for his own reasons he decided to leave and go to work at the sheriff’s department. He did so on good standing.”

The Schenectady police chief spoke generally about police officers getting second chances after they have made mistakes while off the clock.

“I think as a society, we’re becoming more forgiving of people when they make mistakes, especially if they take accountability for them and they serve their punishment.”

But Clifford also suggested police officers are held to a higher standard. Prospective officers are told as much during the interview process.

“He was given a second chance and it certainly has repeated itself,” Clifford said.

“I can tell you this: I know this young man, and he’s got a good heart. He’s a good person. I think it’s indicative of the stressors that are on police officers today.

“I’m not aware of an alcohol problem that he had, or that any of my employees that still know him knew that he had, and I say this because when he left and went over to the sheriff’s department, it wasn’t long after that that he became a canine officer. In that role, he worked closely with our agency, through the canine program, where he would be here often doing gun and explosive work with his dog.

“The fact that nobody knew, possibly, what he had going on is a concern of mine. Are there officers out there who are stressed to the point where they’re doing something like drinking, and they’re disguising it?” Clifford said.

Officers nationwide are under heightened scrutiny, the chief said, while some are concerned about becoming the subject of the next viral video.

“I don’t know if that’s the concern with Dan specifically,” Clifford said. “But it should be an eye-opener for all of us in this profession and even the community… That holding police accountable is one thing, but making the police the enemy is a slippery slope that can’t happen.”

Clifford, who was a lieutenant when Schenectady hired Daniel Coppola, said he was aware of the tragic circumstances involving Daniel Coppola’s father.

“I don’t think he liked to talk about it a lot,” Clifford said. “I am aware of some challenges he’s received in his life. I know that he was raised by two loving parents, his mom and his stepdad, the sheriff. But deep down inside, when you know that that’s happened to your birth father, I’m sure it could be hard. That’s when I say he’s got a good heart; he’s a good person.”

Clifford recalled Daniel Coppola had another job offer from another local police department, but wound up choosing Schenectady.

“That just shows you the kind of kind of person he is, and that he impressed two agencies that both wanted to hire him because he’s got that level of maturity in him… But clearly there’s a breakdown somewhere that’s indicative to get to two DWIs in a short time period.

“I see it more indicative of a problem that he’s currently probably dealing with more than a behavioral thing. That’s just because I know him. I wouldn’t just say this about anybody I didn’t know.

Clifford said he didn’t want to suggest he was defending a troubled former police officer.

“I’m more critical of officers who I believe should not be police officers. And many times, we’ve had some police officers who have lost their jobs because of alcoholism.  I think it’s more common for good officers to lose their jobs because of alcoholism than bad officers to lose their job for alcoholism. Maybe it’s because they care too much. Maybe it’s because they carry that burden home.”

There’s not much help for police officers when they’re off the clock, the chief suggested.

“It’s one of those things – that’s an expense that is hard for the city to swallow when taxes are so high,” Clifford said. “But it’s just so important, the investment into your human resources, especially police human resources. You invest in them to make sure that they are well, and that they are operating at a high level personally, so that when they go out and deal with people in crisis, they can adequately serve the public.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

9 Comments

William Marincic

I’m just curious what you’re trying to do with this story? Are you trying to make Sheriff Dagostino out to be some sort of bad guy because his stepson got a DWI? Are you trying to imply he did something wrong decades ago with the relationship? I just don’t understand why you would ever write something like this.

Because it all smacks of a violation of the public trust. We’re not talking about a sports team, or a boys’ cub.
Too bad you don’t see that.

David Bianchi

I’m Glad to see Compassion for this guy!
Yes, what happened to his Father was Tragic!
I’m Glad to see Compassion!
I’m Also Glad to See That NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW!! (Well, mostly no one…)

This is The United States of America! The Greatest Country in The World!
What I Am Not Happy About is How Wanted Land on Barrett Street Was So Easily Taken After Threats FROM LAWYERS! WE WILL JUST GO THROUGH THE CITY AND TAKE IT!
PUBLICALLY NO LESS!!!
YA, MR.DA! POLITICIANS! IT WAS MY UNCLE’S LAND! A WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN!
WILLED TO MY MOM! SHE WORKED AT THE TEXTILE PLACE ON BROADWAY THAT MADE STUFF FOR THE MILITARY DURING THE WAR! AND LATER ON AS A SECREATARY TO LEWIS GOLUB AND FINALLY SHE WORKED AT AFEES IN ALBANY! HER JOB AT AFEES WAS TO GIVE THE BOYS GOING TO BOOT CAMP THEIR PLAN TICKET TO GO SERVE OUR COUNTRY!!
YA! I HOLD MY CHEST STILL WHILE TYPING THIS!
WILL THE GAZETTE ALLOW IT TOO STAY IN?
WANTED PROPERTY IN THE DOWNTOWN AREA! UNION COLLEGE AREA!
BE PROUD SCHENECTADY! YOU BEAT MY FAMILY DOWN REAL GOOD!!!
PROPER DAY IN COURT!! THAT ALL I ASKED!!
THANKS FOR THE COMPASSION AMERICA AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO OWN PROPERTY!
YES, I WILL CARRY THIS AND FIGHT FOR 10 YEARS OR UNTIL THE END!
LOVE YOU! MOM AND UNCLE UP IN HEAVEN IN WHICH I KNOW YOU ARE IN!
SORRY I DIDN’T HAVE THE MONEY! THE MONEY TO GET OUR PROPER DAY IN COURT!!

All For A Block of Town Houses In Their Presage Area That They Had Surrounded! Barrett St. Barrett Village.
Yes, I Am Poor. And I Have Even Gotten Into Trouble In The Past!
I Ask You? Does That Still Give Anyone The Power to Threaten And Then to Steal The Land!???
I Know Most Are Too Busy With Their Owns Lives to Really Care!
Not That Any of Us Don’t Care! Just that, We/They Have Enough With Our/Their Own Lives To Deal With! I Can Understand that too..
I Am Not Against Schenectady! It’s Good To See It Making A Comeback!
It Still Doesn’t Give Any The Right To Steal!
Or Bully And Threaten To Make One Sell Cheap One Way Or Another Or They Will Just Take IT!

NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW! RIGHT!!

I have Solid Proof/Evidence that everything I have stated is Factual and Not Just Hear Say!!!

Well, I gave it my All.. I even posted repeated comments in the Daily Gazette about how a Developer and Lawyers and City Hall can Team Up against You and/or Your Family to Take What They Want !!! FOR A ROW OF TOWN HOUSES NO LESS!!!

YES,I WILL FIGHT TO THE END!!! GRABBING MY CHEST!!!

AGAIN, WITH THIS LETTER FROM MY THEN LAWYER GLEN BROWNELL!!

I Also Have Paperwork AND WITNESSES To Clearly Prove Everything!!!

AMERICA THE GREAT !!! RIGHT??!!!

I Always Thought Justice Would Prevail.. But, I guess in this Case Not So… Between the Lawyers that My Mother and I had that were Supposed to Be on My and even More So My Mother’s side.(Since it was Concerning Her Land.) Glen Brownell, Also the Bankruptcy Attorney and the Eminent Domain Attorney. In which All 3 Lawyers. Agreed that it seemed like, ” Our Rights were Violated!” Yet, All three of them did Nothing about it.!!!

Well, I gave it my All.. I even posted repeated comments in the Daily Gazette about how a Developer and Lawyers and City Hall can Team Up against You and/or Your Family to Take What They Want! It’s a Shame that even in this Day and Age in Which We Have Cameras at Businesses and Homes Everywhere to Help Ensure Our Safety and For Right to Prevail Over Wrong.. That Wrongdoings Can Be Committed in View of the Public Eye. And Gotten Away With!

JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!!! I WISH THAT COULD BE TRUE!!!

No One is Above The Law!!
Even Though, There Are Some that Are Very Wealthy. Also, Prestigious Institutions. Along With Those that are Well Connected With-In The Banking Industry and Government Officials. That Feel They Are So Big That They Are Untouchable/Unstoppable!
They Have So Much Power With-In The Courts and even Have Much Power with The News That is Put Out! That NO ONE Would Dare Try To Fight Them! And If Some One Should Dare! They Had Be Very Wealthy To Do So! And Maybe Even Then They Should Not Dare Because They Would Be Risking Too Much To Do So!!!

JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!!!

(SCHENECTADY GATE)!!! YOU MAY GOOGLE TO READ!!

https://rotterdamny.info/m-1458405312/s-0/

JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!!! I USED TO BELIEVE THAT!!

I just Wish and Hope They Will Follow the Law and Not Think They are Above it !!!

I did file a FOIL request at City Hall back when it occurred of when the City of Schenectady had ever refused or ordered a Tax payment returned . I never received an answer. Which could have also showed that I had been singled out and dealt with unfairly. Along with the woman that worked in the Tax department at City Hall for 35 years told me she had never seen in her 35 years of the city ever refusing a Tax payment.
My Attorney Glen Brownell back then told me to file the FOIL request because he doubts the City has ever done this to any except me.
My True story involves Barrett Street and City Hall with the now being built Barrett Village. To where my Tax payment was wrongfully/illegally ordered sent back by City Hall…

(Letter from My Mom’s and My Then Lawyer Glen Brownell)
August 14, 2018

To Whom It May Concern

Please be advised that I have represented David Bianchi in numerous matters concerning properties in the City of Schenectady.

A number of years ago I was approached by an attorney who asked if Mr. Bianchi was willing to sell a property on Barrett Street, as a development project was planed I responded with his asking price, which admittedly was high taking into account the planed use of the property, the attorney replied “That’s ok, we’ll just have the City take it.” Subsequently, an abandonment proceeding was commenced by the City of Schenectady, which the property was found to be abandoned despite the fact Mr. Bianchi continually used the property for storage and building inspector admitted he had never been inside the property.
Exhibits have subsequently misplaced by the Court.

Later, Mr. Bianchi attempted to pay back taxes on another property which was in the name of another family member. After submitting the payment in full to American Tax Funding. ATF returned the payment and indicated that they had been directed by the City of Schenectady to return same as Mr. Bianchi was not the proper payer. This was done despite the fact that the City frequently takes payments from other entities for tax payments. It was clear that the City simply wished to seize the property for back taxes, and even the representative of ATF stated they had never seen that situation before.

Mr. Bianchi owned another property that was foreclosed on and a judgment of foreclosure entered.
Subsequently, the mortgagee ex parte requested that the judgment be vacated, a fire later occurred at an adjoining property necessitating the demolition of an structure on Mr. Bianchi’s property. The City later sought to recover the significant demolition cost from Mr. Bianchi, despite the fact he had been divested of to the by the foreclosure proceeding, and knew nothing of what happened subsquently.

It appears that Mr. Bianchi’s Civil rights have been violated by the City of Schenectady on a number of occasions. It is unclear why he became a target of the City, but he clearly was.

Sincerely yours,
Glen W. Brownell

JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!!! I USED TO BELIEVE THAT!!!

David Bianchi

And I Do Understand in part of this Young Man’s pain.
He was Robbed of the Greatest Dad in the World!

David Bianchi

I’m sure Dominic was a Great Step Dad!
But, again being robbed of the chance of never meeting/knowing your birth father had to be rough.
The things other Humans can do to one another.
I admit my stolen land story might not be as bad. Even though I think it took it’s toll.
Just when I hear of others breaking the Law that are in a position to uphold the Law gets me worked up.

David Bianchi

Also, the more I think about it. I guess having your Dad murdered when you are one and having to explain that and live with that would be tough.
I also have something I don’t like to think about or talk about.
Something I had to battle through. Being Falsely accused of attacking someone.
It was my ex wife. Before I Married her. Yes, before I married her.
The police were so sure I did it! Even when she wanted to drop the charges. I even hired her a lawyer then because the police were threatening her of a year in jail for making a false statement.
Having my name plastered in the newspaper too.
I can’t even begin to tell you how that effected me.. and our children…
All I can say is Never Give Up!

David Bianchi

I guess one more thing. I was guilty of growing my own Marijuana then.
Even though the police cut a lock and kicked in a door to find the weed without a Search warrant only an Arrest warrant. When they just got done kicking in the door and chasing me out of the house and knew I wasn’t there.
I plead guilty and served some jail time and probation.
Having to admit that I attacked her when I did not to the courts and probation was something.
Got the Kids returned home by the courts though!
Life! No Guarantees! Also, long ago. No Reason to Lie about it!

David Bianchi

I’m Sure, having the guy that killed his birth father and what it did to his Mom and him and having that guy being fed 3 free meals a day. laundry and medical service didn’t help either..

Rachael Ward

I had to pay $2.99 for a day pass just to comment on this piece of garbage article. I have stuck by the Gazette for years as one of the only remaining independent newspapers around but this article does a disservice not only to this suffering family but the public for which you purport to serve. At a time with so many crises going on around the world, this is the best the best “news” you could find? On a Sunday, no less? This goes so far beyond the bounds of decency and journalistic integrity, I think the Editor should issue an apology not only to this family but to the public at large. Shame on the Gazette and shame on anyone who can stomach this article long enough to find a point in it. Since when is it okay, especially in 2021, to take the trauma of a child and exploit it for financial gain? You protect the identity and rap sheets of criminals and serial abusers with more consideration than someone who served this community and that is an absolute disgrace.

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