Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago has dismissed all charges against three Schenectady police officers in the alleged beating of a suspect one year ago.
Eric Reyell, 29, Gregory Hafensteiner, 30, and Andrew Karaskiewicz, 38, were among five officers accused of beating Donald Randolph after he had been arrested on drunken driving charges in the upper Union Street area on Dec, 7, 2007. While a grand jury failed to charge officers Daryl Mallard and Kevin Derkowski in September, it did indict Reyell, Hafensteiner and Karaskiewicz on single counts of official misconduct, alleging that all three failed to fill out use of force forms related to the incident and that Reyell failed to have his vehicle camera on.
Drago based her decision on an 18-year-old modification to the state official misconduct statute. The modification, she wrote in her decision, was intended to prevent prosecutors from charging official misconduct when their original intent was to seek assault charges.
The crux of the prosecutor’s grand jury case, she wrote, was an alleged assault. The case was also peppered with testimony regarding department policy.
“The court was left with an impression that when it became clear that there was insufficient proof to indict for assault charges, the people then focused their efforts to indict for official misconduct,” Drago wrote.
Failure to comply with administrative regulations, the judge wrote, does not rise to a crime, Drago said, citing the 1990 statute.
Hafensteiner’s attorney, Michael McDermott, noted the legislative intent was not to prosecute crimes for failing to follow administrative policies.
“We always felt that it was overreaching to fit these facts into a criminal prosecution,” McDermott said. “We’re glad the judge agreed.”
Hafensteiner, Karaskiewicz, and Reyell remain on paid leave pending the results of an internal investigation. They were suspended without pay for a month after their September indictments.
The case was prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s office after the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office gave up the case early on due to a conflict. A spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the office is reviewing Drago's decision and has not decided whether to appeal her decision.
Two other officers, Daryl Mallard and Kevin Derkowski, were not indicted, but remained on paid leave after the grand jury action was announced. Their current status could not be determined.
Randolph alleged that one or more officers used excessive force and he was injured as they were arresting him for allegedly driving while intoxicated. Randolph’s family alleged that a half-dozen officers beat him while arresting him, and after Randolph tried to use a cellphone to call his girlfriend for help. Randolph was not seriously injured.
The original charges against Randolph fell apart after it was determined that Karaskiewicz, the arresting officer, never did sobriety tests and never saw Randolph driving. Randolph ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated unlicensed operation, not felony drunk driving, which was the original charge.
Drago noted the prosecutors did not present the grand jury with assault charges to consider, after it became clear there was insufficient evidence of an assault.
“Without disclosing the contents of the grand jury minutes,” Drago wrote, “the court concurs with the people’s decision not to submit such charges to the grand jury.”