GLOVERSVILLE — No update was available Friday as to the future employment status of Gloversville Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay.
Clay appears to have been placed on some kind of paid suspension from his duties as police chief. While city officials will not confirm his status, they have said the department’s second-in-command, Captain Michael Garavelli, is currently in charge.
Mayor Vince DeSantis has confirmed that Clay has not been fired. However, he has not commented on whether or not Clay has been asked to resign.
While DeSantis had previously said he was hopeful the situation with Clay would be finalized by Friday, that didn’t happen.
“I was hoping we were going to have everything nailed down by today, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to do that,” DeSantis said Friday. “It’s with the lawyers now, Tony’s lawyer and our labor attorney (Bryan Goldberger), and so, we’re just waiting. I’m hoping it will be Monday.”
Officials with knowledge of the situation said Friday the city has been advised by Goldberger that commenting about with Clay could potentially result in both civil lawsuit liability to the city as well as even potential criminal liability, if private details of his, or any city employee’s, personnel record, were ever improperly disclosed to the public.
Clay, however, is not prohibited by any civil liability or laws constraining his ability to disclose whether or not he has been asked to resign. Clay did not return phone calls nor a text message seeking comment for this story Friday.
On Tuesday, WNYT News Channel 13, the NBC affiliate in Albany, broadcast a story citing unnamed sources in the city telling the station Clay was “forced to resign” due to a two-part series it previously broadcast highlighting the problem of opioid overdoses in the city.
An updated version of the story on Thursday included a new headline stating, “Sources: Gloversville mayor forcing police chief out.” However, the story did not offer any details supporting that assertion nor did it correct the earlier claim that Clay had already been forced to resign.
Clay was interviewed briefly in the Part 1 of the two-part series from TV reporter Tessa Bentulan. Part 1 of the series featured body camera footage with a timestamp of “2022-07-15” showing a police officer, set against dramatic music, racing to get behind the wheel of his squad car with a Narcan device in his right hand. The body camera footage then stops at the time stamp 18:10:02 and jumps ahead about 48 seconds to 18:10-50 where there can be heard natural sound of a dispatch officer from the car’s radio saying “According to the caller, the female is not breathing,” which was captioned for the TV broadcast.
The footage then jumps ahead another 22 seconds to 18-11-12 when the police officer, and his partner, neither of whom are identified, arrive at the scene of an apparent overdose, while two other police officers, who were already there, begin walking towards a house in Gloversville. The officer with the body camera then races through the front door, receiving helpful information from a young man in a white tank top shirt with his face blurred out, who states, “There’s no pulse” and gestures up the stairs as the officer extends his arms in front of the body camera, while putting on gloves, without breaking stride or pausing to talk to the youth.
Other individuals in the home, whose faces are also blurred, indicate the overdose victim had already received two doses of Narcan, which is the brand name for naloxone, a drug that can help alleviate the effects of an overdose. The officer asks that the people in the home drag the overdose victim to a different location in the home, placing her directly on top of an apparent drug needle laying on the floor, which is then revealed when she is placed on her side, a poignant reminder of the pervasive drug problem in the household, which Bentulan remarks upon in her voice-over of the footage.
“It’s not the first time they’ve been here, if the needle on the floor is any indication, it won’t be the last,” Bentulan said.
Clay’s interview in Part 1 includes him saying, “It’s one of the major problems we’re dealing with in the city” describing opioid overdoses and him saying, “Every time we respond to them, we’re essentially finding a dead person.”
Bentulan then says Narcan has been “a saving grace for this community” and Clay states the drug is often administered to the same people over and over again, but then defends the practice stating that people who feel it should not be used should come to the scene of an overdose fatality with police and explain their opposition to the use of the drug to the overdose victim’s family.
Clay does not appear in Part 2 of the series, which is focused mostly on the human suffering the opioid crisis has caused among the drug addicted and the stress suffered by police officers, like Gloversville Police Detective Chris Zink and recently hired GPD officer Destin Brooker, both profiled in the piece.
On Friday, the Leader-Herald made a request to the Gloversville Police Department to conduct interviews with Zink and Brooker. GPD Lt. Brad Schaffer took the request and said it would be presented to Garavelli, who was not at the police station Friday morning.
City officials familiar with the situation with Clay on Friday told the Leader-Herald that Clay did not inform Mayor DeSantis nor members of the Common Council about the Channel 13 series – or the fact that Bentulan had been allowed to participate in a police ride along with Zink, or that GPD body camera and dashboard camera footage was used for the series, or any of the other legal liability waivers that may have been involved for anyone depicted in any of the footage shown in the series — until the day Part 1 of the series was broadcast.
DeSantis has criticized the series as portraying Gloversville as a crime-ridden community with inaccurate facts, claiming opioid overdoses are happening on a nightly basis. He said statistics he obtained from the GPD show since Jan. 1 there have been 55 overdose calls in Gloversville involving 38 people, some with multiple calls.
The New York state Dept. of Health’s opioid data dashboard does not break out Gloversville opioid overdoses specifically, instead providing data at the county level. According to the dashboard, Fulton County has approximately 11.2 annual opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people since 2019, higher than the Mohawk Valley as a whole, which is shown to have 8.6 annual opioid overdose deaths, but lower than the Capital Region, shown to have 14.9 annual opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 residents since 2019.
Fulton County, however, has a population that is approximately 53,000 residents, roughly half the per capita baseline used for the state’s data dashboard. The NYSDOH also indicated data from Fulton County does not meet its reporting requirements for opioid overdose deaths, which is why no opioid overdose deaths were listed for Fulton County for its 2021 Opioid Annual Data report, which listed deaths by county for 2018 and 2019.
Although the Channel 13 report did not list any specific statistics about the number of opioid overdose fatalities in Gloversville or any specific numbers describing how bad the city’s opioid problem is compared to the rest of the Capital Region or the Mohawk Valley, it did include a line from Bentulan at the end of Part 2 stating that, “Gloversville Police tell us they have the highest number of overdoses per capita, in the entire region.”