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What you need to know for 01/16/2017

Schenectady County jail chief cleared, officer fired

Schenectady County jail chief cleared, officer fired

The Schenectady County Jail superintendent has been cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with all

The Schenectady County Jail superintendent has been cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with allegations over the handling of drugs. Also, a longtime Schenectady County Jail officer was fired this week, accused of lying during the investigation, Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said.

Policies have also been put in place to provide clear steps to take when any contraband is found on incoming inmates, Dagostino said.

Fired Monday was jail officer Valerie Kirchman. She had been with the jail for about 10 years, Dagostino said.

Kirchman was fired for allegedly lying to jail investigators about whether she spoke with anyone about allegations of wrongdoing at the jail and whether she had sent text messages key to the investigation, Dagostino said.

The underlying investigation concerned allegations made against jail Superintendent James Barrett concerning the seizure of a controlled substance from an incoming inmate in May.

The allegations were that Barrett ordered the substance to be destroyed as a favor to a friend, allegations Dagostino said were found to be false.

“Those allegations were determined to be erroneous and false almost immediately as a result of information and facts that we derived from our investigation,” Dagostino said.

Dagostino said Wednesday that the state Commission on Correction also reviewed the matter and considers the case closed. He provided a letter dated Aug. 21 from the commission indicating that.

A state commission spokesman Wednesday confirmed the matter has concluded, but referred to the commission’s written findings for details.

The only matter remaining open is for the state to review new procedures for handling contraband on incoming inmates, Dagostino said.

In the case at issue, both pills and a small amount of powder were found. The small number of pills were identified by a jail medical official as a controlled substance sometimes associated with heroin users called Klonopin. The powder appeared to be a crushed amount of the pills, but too little to formally test.

No criminal charges were filed, but administrative charges were, Dagostino said. The inmate was given 60 days of lock-in, which further restricts inmate movements.

There was no formal policy on the issue at the time, Dagostino said, which left the decision on whether to file charges up to the supervisor on duty. That supervisor chose administrative, rather than criminal charges. Barrett was only notified of the incident later, Dagostino said.

The state’s Aug. 21 letter notes that the lieutenant disposed of the confiscated drugs on his own and was unaware of any department policy that prohibited him from using his discretion in handling such matters and that past practice indicated that the officer in charge could dispose of contraband deemed insignificant.

The letter indicated that the disposal was in violation of state standards. Written policies and standards concerning disposal have now been developed.

Policy has been changed to automatically file a criminal charge in a similar instances, Dagostino said. The commission is still reviewing that policy.

Kirchman was the officer who confiscated the pills and powder from the incoming inmate in May. She identified the powder as heroin, but no one else reported seeing heroin, Dagostino said.

Dagostino said the Sheriff’s Department investigation concluded that she spoke with another officer, who relayed the allegations to the state Commission on Correction. They also determined she sent the text messages when she originally denied doing so.

One of the text messages, sent after the incident, indicated animosity on her part toward Barrett over prior discipline, Dagostino said.

Asked if she could be considered a whistle-blower, Dagostino noted she wasn’t the one who notified the state. However, he said it wasn’t about that.

“She lied in a sworn statement on two occasions,” Dagostino said. “She also failed to obey a directive given to her by a superior officer not to have contact with anyone who was a part of the investigation. She admits to both lying and disobeying the directive given to her.”

With that, he said, she couldn’t be kept.

“It’s hard to salvage an officer who’s lied on a written statement in part of an official investigation because the credibility of that individual is now destroyed.”

The Schenectady County Sheriff’s Benevolent Association confirmed the firing Wednesday and said it will be challenging it in arbitration. The union declined further comment.

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