So, four years after allegedly driving drunk, crashing the car he was driving, beating up an injured fellow drinker/passenger who wanted to report the accident and then fleeing the scene on foot, Schenectady police officer Darren Lawrence is going to get his day in court. No, not Colonie Town Court, where the case has repeatedly been adjourned with no resolution in sight, but the court of hearing officer Jeffrey Selchick. Last month Selchick ruled against the city when it attempted to fire Lawrence — but that was for his involvement in a barroom brawl, small potatoes compared to what he is being charged with here.
It looked as if the city was going to hit Lawrence with the good stuff when it announced last November that it was scheduling disciplinary hearings for every officer it wanted to fire — a long list that included officers accused of working only half their shift on certain days and working as a private security guard while on duty; violating orders of protection against an ex-girlfriend; DWI and alcohol-fueled disputes with an ex-wife; and, similar to Lawrence, driving drunk, being involved in an accident and leaving the scene.
But when Selchick got the Lawrence case, all he heard was the barroom brawl stuff, and concluded that it was no big deal and that Lawrence should be reinstated. That, apparently, was because the city chose to honor an agreement that former Police Chief Michael Geraci made with the Albany County district attorney nearly four years ago, not to bring disciplinary charges against Lawrence for his role in the Colonie case until the court action was concluded.
In a judicial system that works properly, there is an argument for such a policy. It is important that the administrative case not jeopardize the criminal case, and a court conviction would make the city’s administrative case much stronger. But the police and their lawyers quickly figured out, not just in Colonie but in Schenectady City Court, where a compliant Judge Guido Loyola has repeatedly given adjournments in cases involving cops, that they could string things out, tying up the city’s attempts to fire them while they sit home on suspension drawing a full salary.
Enough of that, the city is now saying, as it prepares to do what it should have done the first time it had Lawrence before Selchick: argue the more serious case, the DWI case. The city has had good luck with Selchick regarding the other recent disciplinary cases he has heard, with him recommending firing, and the city either following through or the cops resigning before it could.
If the city’s case against Lawrence is as solid as it looks, it can reasonably expect the same result with him. And the residents of Schenectady will have further cause to hope that the police department which has embarrassed the city for so long is really being cleaned up.