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What you need to know for 06/23/2017

Schenectady goes back to court to fire police officer Darren Lawrence

Schenectady goes back to court to fire police officer Darren Lawrence

Police Officer Darren Lawrence is heading back to disciplinary court.

Police Officer Darren Lawrence is heading back to disciplinary court.

Schenectady officials have decided to try again to fire Lawrence, who was offered leniency by the city’s hearing officer last month.

In the first hearing, the city argued that Lawrence deserved to be fired for getting into a bar brawl while off duty. But prosecutors never brought up the far more serious allegations of an alcohol-related fight from 2006, which has been languishing in criminal court ever since.

Now they plan to present all their evidence from that case in hopes of persuading the hearing officer that termination is warranted.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton spent three weeks considering the issue before deciding to send it back to Hearing Officer Jeffrey Selchick. The law department met with Stratton Thursday afternoon to discuss their plans for the new case, which could be in Selchick’s court as soon as next month.

City officials said they think Selchick will recommend firing Lawrence if the full details of the fight case are presented.

The incident began at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 14, 2006.

According to Mark Viscusi, who was with Lawrence that night, both men drank heavily at several bars, staying out until 3 a.m. Colonie police collected statements from patrons and bartenders describing exactly what the two men drank and when they left each bar.

After leaving the last bar, Lawrence somehow ended up on the Northway in Colonie with Viscusi passed out in the passenger seat, according to Viscusi and police accounts.

Lawrence allegedly lost control and rolled the vehicle off the highway in a one-car accident. Lawrence has since denied, through his attorney, that he was driving.

Viscusi said he awoke upside down when Lawrence broke a window to get them out of the car.

Both men were injured but made their way to the nearby Watervliet Shaker Road. There, Viscusi insisted they call for help.

According to Viscusi’s account, Lawrence said he might lose his job if the accident were reported. Viscusi insisted. To stop him from using a cellphone, Lawrence allegedly punched him repeatedly.

“I fell to the ground and he was kicking me,” Viscusi said in his statement to police. “I remember him choking me out, and blood was coming out of my mouth and nose. It was pouring out of my nose real bad. Every time I thought it was over, he would hit me again.”

Viscusi was later hospitalized with two broken eye sockets, a broken vertebra in his back and a broken nose. Lawrence’s attorney at the time, E. Stewart Jones, contended that those injuries occurred in the crash.

After the alleged fight, Viscusi ran to a nearby house. Lawrence fled. When Colonie police arrived, he was gone.

Police were unable to determine whether he was drunk. They charged him with leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor, and violation-level harassment in regards to his fight with Viscusi. The case has been repeatedly adjourned ever since.

The Albany County District Attorney’s Office has been ready for trial for years, spokeswoman Heather Orth said.

“We are waiting for the court to set a trial date,” she said. “The case is trial-ready. We will take it to trial.”

Schenectady police officials suspended Lawrence without pay for 30 days after Colonie police charged him, and then later suspended him with pay for roughly a month. The police union president, Robert Hamilton, said the department had decided not to punish Lawrence further for that incident. But after he got into a bar fight at Schenectady’s Manhattan Exchange in October 2008, he was suspended indefinitely.

He has not been allowed back to work since then. However, he hasn’t gone without pay: by city contract his pay can only be withheld for 30 days. Since then, he’s been paid roughly $1,102 a week to stay home.

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