It must be reassuring to the motorists of Schenectady County to know that if an off-duty police officer pulls a gun on them at a traffic light in a fit of road rage, his punishment will be a lengthy paid suspension, retirement with full pension and withdrawal of criminal charges.
That's the pending outcome of the case involving Schenectady Police Detective John Hotaling, who was charged in April 2013 with two counts of menacing after he didn't take kindly to the one-finger salute he got from the grandfather of a teenage driver the officer had just passed. When the adults got out of their vehicles, Hotaling got out his gun and pointed it at the family.
He said he didn't do it. But an investigation by his own department found that he did, and the city's Public Safety Commissioner, Wayne Bennett, concluded last week that the detective should be fired.
Instead, the officer has accepted a plea deal from the Saratoga County district attorney that will allow him to retire this month with full pension and to have the two misdemeanor charges adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. If he stays out of trouble for six months, the charges will be dropped.
One reason cited for the deal was that this was Hotaling’s first offense. But this was no ordinary first offense, and Hotaling is no ordinary citizen. The bar for conduct is higher for police officers than it is for ordinary citizens.
The city and the district attorney can defend their decisions by saying they did the prudent thing for Schenectady taxpayers. They got the detective off the job as fast and as cheaply as possible by avoiding a potentially lengthy and expensive disciplinary hearing. And in the end, they got what they wanted: Hotaling will no longer be a police officer in Schenectady.
But the deal still smacks of favoritism.
The criminal case for the two misdemeanors dragged on for more than a year. And Hotaling was kept on the city payroll just long enough to hit the 20 years of service he needed to make him eligible for full retirement benefits. What a coincidence. On top of that, for simply agreeing to an outcome that was inevitable anyway, he’s rewarded with the dismissal of criminal charges.
From a practicality standpoint, the outcome might seem reasonable.
But as far as reassuring the public that police officers who use guns to threaten people will be appropriately punished, this deal falls far short of the mark.