NISKAYUNA – The Niskayuna Police Department’s Deputy Chief Michael Stevens has issued a lawsuit against the town of Niskayuna and its former Supervisor Yasmine Syed alleging Syed publicly made “false and defamatory claims” about Stevens’ conduct.
The complaint, filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court in Schenectady County, claims Stevens has “suffered personal and professional reputational damage, severe emotional and psychological pain and suffering, and has otherwise been injured and damaged.” That trauma came after disturbing allegations about his behavior – including allegations of racism and bullying – were made public last year, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit, which Stevens has been preparing to file since last October, seeks an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
When reached by phone Friday, Syed, who now lives in the Syracuse area after leaving office in 2021, said she was not aware of the lawsuit and could not offer extensive comment, though she defended her decision to release details as promoting transparency and serving public interest.
Current Niskayuna Supervisor Jaime Lynn Puccioni did not respond to multiple messages left Friday.
Stevens could not be reached for comment Friday. His attorney, Michael P. McDermott, did not respond to a voicemail left Friday.
In July 2020, Stevens was accused of multiple acts of misconduct in an anonymous email sent to Syed and then-Town Board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith from “an apparent member of the town Police Department,” according to a press release Syed issued in September of last year. Alleged offenses included that Stevens suggested a pregnant female officer should have an abortion; called a Muslim officer a terrorist and said he was part of sleeper cell; blew male officers kisses and called them sweetheart; threatened an officer with arrest after the officer tried to find a locker; and bullied a member of the Police Benevolent Association who was trying to submit a grievance to then-Chief Dan McManus.
In July of 2020, Stevens was told he was being suspended from his role as deputy chief, the lawsuit states. That suspension was done without proper due process because Stevens was never presented with the charges against him, the suit alleges. Though the suspension was rescinded, Syed served Stevens on Jan. 25, 2021, with a notice of discipline alleging misconduct, according to the complaint. Stevens, who was one of three candidates in the running to be the chief of police, demanded a public hearing on the misconduct to be able to defend himself against “spurious allegations.” That hearing and the investigation into Stevens’ actions were ultimately halted last September.
Syed said Friday the investigation was stopped to protect the alleged victims.
“That really was a decision that was made in concert with, and in collaboration with, the individuals who would have had to give testimony. It would have been putting them through that process,” Syed said. “It was not a determination.”
After the charges were dropped, Syed eventually released a “Letter of Counsel” on Sept. 24, 2021, outlining the allegations against Stevens in great detail and issued a corresponding press release, the complaint says.
“The press release drafted, written, and/or published by (Syed) makes knowingly false and defamatory claims that (Stevens) engaged in misconduct and made racist comments,” the lawsuit alleges.
Syed acted maliciously, violating town policy, the Public Officers Law and Civil Service Law by releasing the details of the allegations, according to the complaint.
Syed “made no reasonable effort to determine the accuracy, truth, or correctness of the statements contained therein but, rather, specifically, purposefully, and intentionally disseminated unsubstantiated claims,” the complaint alleges.
Syed on Friday defended her decision to release the details of the allegation as being in the public interest and being backed by a Schenectady County Supreme Court judge’s December 2020 decision that said information requested by FOIL can be disclosed “regardless whether unsubstantiated or unfounded or exonerated or dismissed, or regardless of whether or not yet fully determined.” She pointed to the reasoning laid out in her Sept. 2021 press release.
“The town has very recently received FOIL requests seeking disclosure of the Civil Service Law Section 75 charges brought against Deputy Chief Stevens and the Letter of Counsel I issued to him,” Syed wrote in the release. “In response to the call for transparency as concerns this personnel issue … I am disclosing with this release, the July 27, 2020, anonymous email which initiated the investigation of Deputy Chief Stevens, the January 25, 2021, New York State Civil Service Law charges filed in my capacity of the Town of Niskayuna Supervisor against Deputy Chief Stevens, and my Letter of Counsel issued to Deputy Chief Stevens.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.