Niskayuna

Training required for Niskayuna deputy chief after hostile work environment allegations

Niskayuna Police Assistant Chief Miichael Stevens addresses a Niskayuna High School auditorium crowd at a forum on Nov. 7, 2018.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Niskayuna Police Assistant Chief Miichael Stevens addresses a Niskayuna High School auditorium crowd at a forum on Nov. 7, 2018.

NISKAYUNA – Niskayuna Deputy Police Chief Mike Stevens, who was a candidate for the town’s chief of police, was ordered Friday to complete sensitivity, bias and communication training by the end of the year after he allegedly harassed, bullied, threatened, and made derogatory statements, according to a letter from the town’s supervisor.

Supervisor Yasmine Syed released the disciplinary letter after 5 p.m. Friday along with a press release and a copy of the anonymous letter that started the investigation into Stevens for creating a hostile work environment.

Syed said she released the letter after town residents called for transparency, and because of a decision last year by state Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers concerning former Schenectady Police Officer Brian Pommer, who had sued the city of Schenectady over the release of his records. Powers determined that that officer’s law enforcement records should be disclosed. 

Allegations against Niskayuna’s Stevens were sent to Supervisor Syed and then-Town Board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith in an anonymous email on July 27, 2020 from “an apparent member of the town Police Department.” The letter’s author made several allegations against Stevens regarding his behavior toward other officers, according to documents released Friday.

Those allegations included:

  • Making a comment toward a pregnant female officer that she should have an abortion. 
  • Making racist statements toward a Muslim officer, including calling the officer a terrorist and saying he was part of a sleeper cell.
  • Blowing male officers kisses and calling them sweetheart.
  • Threatening an officer and stating the officer could be arrested after the officer tried to find a locker in the department.
  • Making menacing and inappropriate statements to officers regarding their reporting problems with patrol cars.
  • Menacingly accusing an officer of violating the state Police Information Resource Management and E Justice System while trying to report a problem. 
  • Aggressively bullying a member of the Police Benevolent Association who was trying to submit a grievance to then-Chief Dan McManus.
  • Interrupting briefings while a shift supervisor was addressing officers, including talking on the phone, putting feet up on the table and burping loudly.
  • Engaging in threatening and retaliatory behavior toward an officer when the officer asked about documents in a personnel file.

The general statement of charges says that Stevens received verbal counseling from then Chief Dan McManus regarding blowing kisses to officers and calling them sweetheart and disrupting briefings and lineups.

Syed said in the disciplinary letter that Stevens admitted to the comments regarding telling the pregnant officer she should have an abortion. 

“Notably in a July 28, 2020 meeting with Town Attorney Paul Briggs and Deputy Town Attorney Alexis Kim you admitted making a comment to [redacted office name] about abortion and said you were making a comment on NY legislation concerning abortion which had been recently changed,” Syed said in the letter. 

Syed said Stevens admitted to the town attorneys that the racists statements were a “running joke.” 

“I recalled Stevens corroborated the scenarios set forth in the anonymous emails, but disagreed with their characterization,” Kim said Friday. 

The charges against Stevens were set to be aired in a disciplinary hearing last week, on Sept. 15, which Stevens had wanted open to the public. 

Prior to that scheduled hearing, Syed said the town had hoped to reach an agreement with Stevens and the complainants. That did not happen. 

“Deputy Chief Stevens refused to accept responsibility for any of the charges while certain of the complainants demanded that he be fired,” Syed said in the letter.

Syed announced the night before the hearing scheduled for last Wednesday that she would not be going forward with the charges and therefore the hearing was canceled and she planned to handle the matter internally. Stevens said on Sept. 17 that the town had previously scheduled and then canceled three other hearings – Feb. 15, April 17 and July 17. 

While the most recent hearing was coming up Syed said the town decided not to pick Stevens as chief of police. 

Syed said that it “seemed cruel, demeaning and perhaps even retaliatory to force our Police Department members to recount, in public, some of the most professionally and personally demeaning incidents of their lives involving remarks by Deputy Chief Stevens about race and medical conditions.” 

In December 2020, the Niskayuna Police Benevolent Association had a 17-1 no confidence vote concerning Stevens.

During the course of determining a new police chief, Syed said the town received two complaints regarding the “integrity of the process” and one of the complaints was about a Niskayuna employee. She said those complaints were investigated by the town’s outside counsel Jay Girvin and Girvin determined the claims to be baseless and not supported by credible evidence. 

Jordan Kochan was named chief Sept. 17.

Stevens and Syed could not be reached for comment. 

Perez did not agree with how the whole situation was handled. 

“It’s disheartening that the town’s leadership chose a smear campaign against Deputy Chief Stevens instead of due process designed to get to the truth,” she said.

Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at 518-478-3320 or [email protected]

Categories: News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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