NISKAYUNA — “Disgusting” and “secretive” are just a couple of the words some Niskayuna residents are using to describe the recent decisions by a town official to cancel a disciplinary hearing into the deputy police chief, and then release documents related to the investigation and final outcome to only the media.
Deputy Chief Mike Stevens had been facing an over yearlong investigation into his behavior in the workplace, following an anonymous letter that was sent to the town in July 2020.
The letter’s author made several allegations against Stevens regarding his behavior toward fellow officers. Among the allegations, Stevens allegedly made racist statements toward a Muslim officer, and made a comment toward a pregnant female officer that she should have an abortion.
Stevens was set to have a hearing Sept. 15, which he wanted to hold publicly, but the night before the hearing Supervisor Yasmine Syed decided to drop the charges against Stevens and handle the complaints internally. The reasoning was that Stevens wasn’t going to become the next chief and there was no need to have the officers recount those events again.
On Friday, Syed released the letter of counsel outlying the allegations against Stevens, and indicated Stevens would be required to complete sensitivity, bias and communication training by the end of the year.
“I am very upset and disgusted with the fact that the town has material that they’ve released to the press that they’ve not released to the public,” said resident Jon Lemelin.
But what further upset him, he said, was that Stevens was not allowed any opportunity to defend himself.
“It sounds like Stevens was prepared, it sounds like he wanted the hearing,” Lemelin said.
He said choosing not to hold the hearing makes it seem like there’s more going on that the town isn’t talking about.
That’s exactly how resident Linda Rizzo said she feels. She also questioned the supervisor’s decision Tuesday evening during the public comment period of the town’s monthly board meeting. She said the release of only certain information regarding the investigation isn’t transparent and neither was canceling the hearings.
Margaret Brennan said the entire ordeal has driven her crazy.
“Whatever’s going on they don’t want people to know,” the town resident said, noting she’d like to know the cost of the investigation.
A travesty is what resident Steve Benton called it.
“So they dragged a decorated 20-year veteran [officer] through the mud after they limited his ability to publicly defend himself,” Benton said.
Benton said he would not be surprised if Stevens files a lawsuit against the town.
“Quite frankly, I think the entire town board should resign immediately,” Benton said. “It’s clear that some are in over their heads and others actions may be more egregious. And who pays? We do, as taxpayers.”
Before the meeting, Syed said the town board is still debating on whether to post the documents released to the media online. They were released after several media outlets sent in requests for the documents and because of a decision last year by state Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers concerning Schenectady Police Officer Brian Pommer, who had sued the city of Schenectady over the release of his records. Powers determined that officer’s law enforcement records should be disclosed.
She said the information released to the media addressed all of the requests the town received.
Town board member Bill McPartlon addressed the media coverage surrounding the police department Tuesday, as well.
He said Stevens has served admirably as the officer in charge of the department while the board picked a new chief.
“I believe he took the allegations that were against him very seriously,” McPartlon said.
Jordan Kochan was sworn in as the new Niskayuna police chief on Sept. 17.
McPartlon said with a new police chief in charge, the department should move forward.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at 518-478-3320 or at [email protected]