City police Officer Gregory Hafensteiner, who resigned on Sunday, used excessive force without provocation in the alleged beating of DWI suspect Donald Randolph, the mayor said Monday.
The city’s evidence shows Hafensteiner kicking Randolph — possibly not connecting on most kicks — as he was moved out of a police car, city officials said.
Randolph has claimed he was beaten by multiple officers after he got out of the car, bruising his face and right arm.
The kicks, which were to his left side, are unlikely to have caused those injuries. They may be discussed in the upcoming disciplinary report regarding Officer Andrew Karaskiewicz, who arrested Randolph and brought him to the scene of the alleged beating.
Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said the determination of Hafensteiner’s excessive force was based on an in-car video that recorded Randolph being removed from a patrol car.
Randolph’s hands were cuffed behind his back, Van Norden said. Karaskiewicz opened one side door and began to guide Randolph out of the car.
Then Hafensteiner opened the other side door.
He repeatedly kicked at Randolph to propel him out of the car, Van Norden said.
Some of the kicks seemed to miss, Van Norden added. But he said he saw signs of at least one kick connecting.
Hafensteiner later defended himself to his supervisors by saying that Randolph was resisting, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
But the proper way to move a suspect who resists is to grab his feet and pull him out of the car, Bennett said.
And he said that in the video, Randolph clearly said he wouldn’t fight back.
Bennett stressed that he did not believe the incident was planned.
“It was a spontaneous and very ill-advised act,” Bennett said. “He’s paid the price. And he should.”
Mayor Brian U. Stratton issued a statement saying Hafensteiner’s misdeeds were so egregious that he had planned to fire the officer Monday.
Hafensteiner resigned Sunday after Hearing Officer Jeffrey Selchick submitted a written report saying Hafensteiner had used force against an unresisting suspect and should be fired.
Selchick also said evidence proved Hafensteiner attempted to cover up the incident by not filing a use of force form required by the department.
Stratton said he allowed Hafensteiner to resign rather than be fired because it eliminates the possibility of a costly appeal. The last officer Stratton fired, John Lewis, has initiated an appeal.
The city spent 21⁄2 years investigating and prosecuting the case against Hafensteiner. He was paid to stay home from work during that time, racking up roughly $1,100 a week. He also cashed in much of his saved overtime, so he has so far been paid a total of $81,000.
Karaskiewicz is accused of using excessive force during the Randolph incident and remains on suspension. Selchick is expected to issue a report on Karaskiewicz soon. Until then, the city continues to pay him, as required under the contract.
The cost of the lengthy suspensions made Hafensteiner’s case particularly frustrating, Stratton said. He noted that discipline could have been swift — the department had the in-car video that night, making a determination of guilt easy.
But a judge stopped the city from setting the discipline itself. Currently, discipline can only be set by Bennett if the officer agrees to it, otherwise the case must go through the expensive and time-consuming process of holding a private trial with a hearing officer.
Bennett said this case, and most of the other city cases alleging police misconduct, highlight the need for discipline.
“You can’t just ignore these things,” he said, suggesting that a slow hand encouraged some misdeeds.
“The fact that they got involved in these things tells me they weren’t too concerned with discipline,” he said. “One of the purposes of discipline is … to tell others, ‘It will not be tolerated.’ It reinforces the idea that yeah, there is accountability.”
The Randolph incident occurred on Dec. 7, 2007, during an early morning shift.
Karaskiewicz arrested Randolph on a driving while intoxicated charge at the Union Street McDonald’s. He said he saw Randolph outside a car that had been parked in the McDonald’s drive-through. Randolph later admitted to having driven the vehicle, but the drunken driving charge fell apart from lack of evidence.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said Karaskiewicz failed to administer sobriety tests, didn’t check Randolph’s license and didn’t even see Randolph drive the vehicle.
Instead, Karaskiewicz made the arrest based on his observation that Randolph had glassy eyes and smelled of alcohol, Carney said.