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What you need to know for 10/22/2017

Schenectady police discipline moves forward

Schenectady police discipline moves forward

Three city police officers out on suspension for months soon will be charged administratively, Publi

Three city police officers out on suspension for months soon will be charged administratively, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said Friday.

He also scheduled disciplinary hearings for two other officers, who face termination when their cases are heard next month.

And on Wednesday, the city took a step toward closing the Justice Department’s long-standing investigation into alleged civil rights abuses by Schenectady police.

It’s been a busy week for Bennett, but he wasn’t complaining.

“We welcomed it,” he said. “We’d like this thing brought to a conclusion. It’s been lingering a long time.”

He spent six hours with Justice Department officials on Wednesday, showing them the policies and procedures that were changed in response to a critical Justice Department report in 2003.

His goal was to prove that every issue had been resolved.

“I think this matter’s been addressed, and a lot of changes have been made,” he said, calling the open investigation an unfair “little shadow” hanging over the department.

The Justice Department officials did not close their investigation Wednesday. Nor did they offer any deadline for making a final determination. But Mayor Brian U. Stratton said he thought he impressed them with his plan to consider a merger between the city and suburban police departments.

“And I told them that since their last visit, we’ve turned over 50, 55 officers. So we have a new group, a new mentality,” Stratton said.

Still, Stratton had to acknowledge to them that one issue still undermines the department.

“We talked about the new issues — the management problems,” he said, referring to one underlying cause of the work-ethic violations of the past year. Several officers were found not working for hours during their shifts and in two cases had left the city limits without anyone noticing. The behavior continued even after the city installed GPS units that show supervisors exactly where each car is at all times.

“We talked about how we put in the GPS. But still, the management was not there to stay on top of them,” Stratton said.

Poor supervision was also of concern when the Justice Department began investigating the city in 2002. Supervision was cited again as a key failure that allowed Detective Jeff Curtis to steal crack cocaine from the city’s evidence locker in 2007.

Three officers will be charged administratively, Bennett said.

Andrew Karaskiewicz and Gregory Hafensteiner, who allegedly beat a man during a driving while intoxicated arrest in 2007, will be charged “imminently.” They will not face criminal charges; a grand jury has already cleared them of excessive force allegations. But they still stand accused of violating department policies.

The two men have been on paid suspension since January 2008.

Also to be charged will be Dwayne Johnson, who left his shift four hours early on multiple Tuesdays. It’s not clear what he was doing, but he left his marked police car outside an apartment regularly at 4 a.m. on Tuesdays. He was supposed to patrol his section of the city each day until 8 a.m.

Bennett said “complications” were slowing the conclusion of the Johnson case. He declined to offer specifics but said charges are expected.

Two officers who have already been charged will face possible termination by Bennett next month.

On June 23, Bennett will begin a disciplinary hearing for John Lewis, who was arrested five times in the past year. Most of the charges related to allegedly alcohol-fueled disputes over his deteriorating marriage. In December, he was also charged with DWI.

That hearing is expected to continue through June 24. It will be closed to the public.

On June 26, Bennett will hold a hearing for Darren Lawrence, who is accused of drunken driving, crashing a vehicle and then beating his passenger in an attempt to keep the incident secret in October 2006. He is also accused of off-duty misbehavior that forced officers to remove him from a bar in October 2008. Lawrence’s hearing also will be closed to the public.

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