A dispute between a girlfriend and her boyfriend has spilled into the Schenectady Police Department, where officers allegedly decided to force their way into the woman’s apartment without a warrant to arrest her earlier this month.
The incident began when Jamie Smith repeatedly called her on-again, off-again boyfriend to report that she was having a medical emergency.
Her boyfriend is Schenectady Police Officer Jonathan Haigh. The two have a 10-month-old daughter.
Smith, who is being treated for a brain tumor that has left lesions on her brain, called Haigh on Sept. 9 when she become violently ill. Her doctor urged her to go to the emergency room, and she needed someone to care for her daughter.
“I would get up and literally fall to the ground. I was blacking out. I was vomiting,” she said.
Haigh said he would come take their daughter, she said. But he didn’t show up.
So she called repeatedly. Police counted 60 phone calls from her, including three voice mails.
Haigh picked up the phone occasionally, she said, to reassure her that he was on his way. At one point he said he was busy moving furniture but would be on his way soon, she said.
Eventually he went to work — his shift begins at midnight — and he intermittently picked up the phone to argue with her, she said. He said he’d have to take the night off; she pleaded with him to use personal time. He hung up a few times.
But at other times he called her back, saying he’d been handling an incident or had missed her call because he silenced his personal phone while on duty.
“He never said ‘I’m not coming, you need to stop calling me.’ I was kind of out of it because I was really sick,” she said. “I was hysterical. I was crying on the phone. He kept leading me to believe he was going to come.”
Eventually, around 6:30 a.m., she said police officers began pounding on her door. According to court records, they did not have an arrest warrant.
They used Haigh’s keys to let themselves into her apartment building and then turned the key in the lock to open her door, she said.
She called out to them and they claimed to want to check on her baby, she said, but though she told them she did not want them to come in and closed the door on them, an officer kicked the door open, she said.
Then, she said, they arrested her on a charge of aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor. The official arrest report lists the arresting officers as J. Overocker and A. Willetts. The report does not indicate how or if they entered her apartment, only that they arrested her at that address.
In court, she was released on her own recognizance. Her attorney, Wendy DeForge, has filed for disclosure in preparation for taking the case to trial.
Two authoritative city sources told The Gazette that Smith had told Haigh that she was leaving her baby alone in the apartment and going to the ER in Albany. They said that’s why police went to her door.
However, Haigh had sworn out a complaint against her for harassment — not child endangerment.
And a check on the baby’s welfare doesn’t explain why they would have kicked the door in once they knew she was home.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said that if the officers did break in, it would be “completely serious.”
However, Smith said Haigh told her that he had the right to give his keys to other officers and give them permission to break in.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he knew of situations where landlords gave officers keys so they wouldn’t break down a door — but only if they had an arrest warrant. They did not have one in this case.
In general, police aren’t allowed to break into a building without a warrant unless they are in an active chase or in a situation so serious that they don’t have time to get a warrant.
Retired Troy Police Officer James Bottillo, who teaches new recruits at the Zone 5 Police Academy in Schenectady, said police powers are clear.
They can’t come in simply to arrest her.
“Unless it was a check the welfare — if they’re pounding on the door and you don’t respond and they have reason to believe [you’re in danger], because of life and safety they can make entry,” he said.
But, he said, police can’t simply break in because a boyfriend reports that a girlfriend is ill.
“There has to be more than that, because otherwise it turns into a way to harass your girlfriend. And it was, back in the day,” he said. “People would use it as a unique way to harass each other.”
McCarthy took the allegations seriously, saying he wanted an investigator to interview Smith at once.
“We hope that everybody acts appropriately. If somebody believes someone didn’t act appropriately, I want to know about it. We’ll assign someone to follow up and investigate it,” he said.
But he added that he doesn’t want employees “harassed or falsely accused.”
He noted that Haigh, who was charged with driving while intoxicated last year but was allowed to return to work under a last-chance agreement, has been a good officer.
“Since he came back to work, his performance really seems to be exceptional,” McCarthy said.
Bennett defended his officers, and said earlier this week that he would not investigate unless Smith filed an official complaint.
He said previous complaints by Smith, regarding allegations of harassment by Haigh, were unfounded when investigators looked into it.
The two have filed complaints against each other over the past three years, regarding communication about their child and a prior pregnancy, custody issues, and property disputes. Both have had stay-away or refrain-from-contact orders against each other at times as well, but have voluntarily dropped them when they got back together.
Smith filed a complaint about the arrest Wednesday, and Bennett said it had been assigned to an investigator.