A Schenectady police officer served a suspension of about a month without pay for using police resources to run a license plate check for a friend, who sought identifying information on a man he said was harassing his girlfriend.
But authorities say the identifying information was actually handed over to a third man who used the information to terrorize a Rotterdam resident with explosive devices last year.
Details regarding the Schenectady officer were included recently in a prosecutor’s filing in the case against the man accused of orchestrating the attacks, Lawrence Ahrens. The name of the officer was not included in the document, and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett refused to identify the officer.
The officer is not believed to have been aware of the real reason for the request or for whom the information was ultimately being requested, prosecutors point out in the court filing. But Bennett said the officer shouldn’t have handed out the information at all.
Ahrens has been charged with multiple felonies, including first-degree arson, and could face up to 25 years to life if convicted.
The 33-year-old Rotterdam resident is accused of directing a “campaign of terror” against a romantic rival in Rotterdam. He allegedly got drug-addicted friends to throw explosive devices at the rival’s home window in attempts to drive him off and win back his former girlfriend.
According to the pretrial filing, Ahrens got the rival’s name and address by having a friend get a Schenectady police officer to run the man’s license plate. The filings say the plate check happened March 5, 2012, and Ahrens “launched his campaign of terror immediately thereafter.”
The police department began investigating after the district attorney’s office brought the information to the department’s attention, Bennett said.
He confirmed that the officer involved was identified and suspended without pay for a “significant” amount of time. He declined to give the exact length of the suspension, but it was a month at most because he said the officer served his suspension in July 2012.
“He has served his suspension and has resumed his duties,” Bennett said. He explained that the officer gave out the address because “a friend” asked for it.
Although the officer couldn’t have guessed that the information would lead to a series of bombings, Bennett said, the officer should have known better than to hand out an address to someone claiming harassment.
“The obvious question is, ‘Why do you want it?’ ” Bennett said. “A police officer, just through their daily activities, the antenna should go up.”
He said officers should never “arbitrarily hand out information.”
Bennett added that the department had never had trouble with the officer before. “It was a very rare moment of poor judgment on his part,” he said.
The request for the information also should have raised questions, he added. “If, in fact, he’s so concerned about being harassed, he should go to police and file an official complaint,” Bennett said. “There’s a correct process to follow.”
Ahrens is accused of recruiting others to damage his rival’s home using explosives.
In one instance on March 17, 2012, an explosive device blew up on the man’s front porch and smashed his bedroom window as he slept. A week later, another device detonated near a dormer on the second floor of the home, causing damage to the roof.
Three others were charged in connection with the case; those people have pleaded guilty.