Niskayuna

After investigation, Niskayuna town board eyed firing interim chief Wall before she resigned, documents say

Outgoing Niskayuna Police Chief Fran Wall at her walk out ceremony with her son Don Wall at Town Hall June 11
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Outgoing Niskayuna Police Chief Fran Wall at her walk out ceremony with her son Don Wall at Town Hall June 11

NISKAYUNA – Fran Wall retired as interim police chief of the Niskayuna Police Department before the Town Board could discuss whether to terminate her for workplace violence, which included allegations of racism, according to a report from the town’s Hazard Reduction Team.

Wall, who left June 11, said she wanted to retire following a lack of support from the Town Board for the department, but the report said the Town Board was considering firing Wall after she allegedly threatened “to kill” the town comptroller.

Documents supplied to The Daily Gazette in response to a request under the state Freedom of Information Law show Wall’s time at the department was likely limited following eight complaints about her behavior toward other town employees. 

The town’s Hazard Reduction Team concluded June 3 that Wall had committed both Level 1 and Level 2 workplace violence. Level 1 is described as “disruptive behavior such as verbal abuse” and Level 2 is described as “aggressive or threatening behavior.” 

On May 10, the Town Board was considering either firing, suspending without pay, reprimanding or placing a counseling memo in Wall’s personnel file. The Town Board’s outside human resource consultant recommended Wall be fired. On May 17 Wall submitted her resignation letter.

The complaint, by Ismat Alam, who is Pakistani, stems from the town’s hiring of CNA to do a racial equity report.  Alam was asked by the town to create a request for proposals to find a third-party agency to conduct the racial bias audit and then to make a recommendation, according to Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed. Alam recommended CNA.

In the first complaint, Alam said that after the November town meeting she went to speak to Syed before leaving for the evening and Wall was already in Syed’s office and visibly upset. 

Alam alleged that Wall “lashed out” at her and said:  “If the TB (Town Board) could give you $25,000 for the racial equity audit, why can’t they give me $25,000 for my Police Department for body cameras.” 

Alam alleged that Wall threatened her when she said to Alam: “if CNA comes after my police officers then I will kill you.” 

“I am convinced that Chief Wall’s hostility, anger and threats toward me are racially motivated since I am [redacted],” Alam wrote in the complaint. “This demonstrates, in my opinion, explicit and inherent racial bias towards people of color.”

Alam had previously worked in Albany, which also used CNA to conduct a similar audit. 

Alam was hesitant on multiple occasions to file the report for fear of retaliation by Wall and the Police Department, she said. She even requested protection for their family at one point. 

Wall’s behavior to Alam and her staff was creating “a culture of fear” in Town Hall, Alam said in a statement released Wednesday.

“After three months and at least eight different incidents later, I am convinced that my safety and my family’s safety could be in jeopardy especially when the threats are from a person with loaded weapons and a lot of power in the town,” Alam wrote in her complaint to the town. “I am very anxious and nervous about potential retaliation from the Police Department and/or the current chief of police, Fran Wall, about this complaint and ask for protection for me and my family.”

The complaint also alleges workplace violence occurred seven other times following the Nov. 5, 2020 incident. 

On Nov. 12, 2020, Alam said, Wall was hostile toward her at a department head meeting and other department heads noted feeling uncomfortable with comments Wall was mumbling under her breath. 

About Dec. 2, 2020, Alam said, Wall stormed into her office angrily after she had sent an email regarding meeting with CNA about the audit. Alam ended the email, saying, “Looking forward to working with you on this exciting and much needed endeavor.”

“She glared at me with her face a few inches away from mine and angrily said that I have personally attacked her and her officers by using the phrase ‘much-needed endeavor,’” Alam wrote in the incident form. 

Alam goes on to say Wall accused her of working with politicians to get rid of her. 

“She blocked my exit by standing between me and the doors,” Alam wrote. “Her body language (hands on hips, shifting from foot to foot as if getting ready to pounce on me) was threatening and intimidating” 

The complaint said Wall returned and apologized for her behavior stating she had a bad temper.

Other incidents through December 2020 allege Wall continued to harass her and have a threatening demeanor toward her whenever the two were together. 

Alam also alleged that Wall started harassing another person after that person witnessed Wall’s hostility toward her. Alam said that Wall denied being hostile or harassing toward her during a meeting on Dec. 11, 2020. 

Alam said Wednesday she felt Wall’s behavior created  “a culture of fear in Town Hall.”

“I felt compelled to pursue the complaint because I believe it is never appropriate for a person in power – especially a  person with a gun – to threaten, harass and intimidate a civilian in any setting, including in the workplace,” she said in a statement this afternoon. “I believe that the police are charged with being the protectors of civilians and role models for racial fairness. However,  because of Chief Wall’s behavior toward me, my staff and others, it is clear that Chief Wall violated her position of authority and needed to be held accountable for that.”

Alam said she was relieved Wall was gone, but not happy she wasn’t able to be held accountable for her actions. Alam also said she respects the Police Department and the officers who work there. 

“They do not deserve to be tarnished by the actions of one leader,” she said. 

Wall’s attorney, Paul Davenport, on Wednesday said the allegations against Wall are entirely untrue. 

“This investigation is a complete sham,” he said. 

If the incident had actually taken place in November, then why doesn’t the supervisor remember it, Davenport said, and why didn’t she take action at the time. 

“No action was taken because it didn’t occur,” he said. 

Syed said on the night of the first event she was packing up in her office while Wall, Alam and another unnamed person were chatting in the vestibule outside her office. She said Wall had been agitated but she did not hear any statements made by Wall. Syed said the unnamed third person with Alam and Wall is the one who corroborated Alam’s allegations. 

However, Davenport said the entire investigation was “specious” and “created out of thin air to try and disparage Chief Wall.”

He said Wall was impassioned about the department and made attempts to make changes in the department, including getting body cameras, but was being blocked by Alam and board members. 

“Just because Chief Wall was advocating – and she’s passionate about police work, she’s a professional – doesn’t make a hostile environment,” he said.

Davenport said Wall is keeping all of her legal possibilities in mind. 

 

 

Categories: News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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