Schenectady County officials fired a corrections officer this week for using a racial slur while riding in an elevator with another jail employee, county officials said.
County Attorney Chris Gardner declined to name the officer fired Wednesday, citing a civil rights law backing confidentiality in the matter. However, he confirmed the terminated officer was the focus of an internal investigation launched by the Sheriff’s Department last fall after a black female officer complained of a racial epithet she heard over the jail’s radio system.
Gardner said Officer Andrea Smith raised a complaint about workplace conditions at the jail after she heard a man’s voice make disparaging remarks over the radio. It wasn’t clear who the remarks were directed at.
While numerous jail employees reported hearing the slur, Gardner said only a few could say with certainty who was speaking into the radio. Among the nearly three dozen people interviewed, only two indicated they could identify the voice.
“It wasn’t conclusive who said it,” he said.
But during the course of the investigation, one officer was identified as using a racial slur in a jail elevator in the presence of at least one other employee. Gardner said the offending officer —who was also named in the radio incident —was ultimately fired.
“The comment [in the elevator] was not made to Officer Smith,” he said. “It was made to another officer.”
Numerous sources confirmed the officer fired is Daniel DiBlasio. Attempts to contact DiBlasio were unsuccessful Thursday.
Gardner said the termination is subject to a grievance process with the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Benevolent Association. He said the fired officer has voiced an intention to challenge the dismissal at an arbitration hearing.
Ennio Corsi, an attorney for Council 82, which represents the benevolent association, declined to comment. Calls placed to benevolent association President Ronald Walsh were not returned Thursday and acting Sheriff Gordon Pollard referred all comments to Gardner.
Smith also filed a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights last fall. An official with the agency declined to comment on the case or release a copy of the complaint, citing an ongoing investigation.
In recent months, allegations of discrimination and abuse at the jail have come from both staff and inmates, according to Paul Webster, the acting chairman of the local NAACP chapter’s organizing committee.
“We’ve received a number of reports over the past few months and have representatives at the county Human Rights Commission who heard these issues,” he said. “This is something we plan to discuss as a chapter.”
Gardner said the incident involving the terminated officer appeared to be isolated. He said the leadership of the Sheriff’s Department assured him such instances are “exceedingly rare” at the jail and there is no indication of a larger problem.
“But the officers, the employees and all the inmates are entitled to have an environment free of racial hostility,” he said.