As each second unwinds in the riveting 911 audio tape of the frantic woman being chased through the dark streets of Schenectady by Mayor Gary McCarthy, more questions keep racing through your head:
What the hell is happening here?
Why is he chasing her?
How long before she gets to the police station? Is she there yet?
What’s he doing now?
Why is he getting out of his car?
Listen to the callSarah Dingley's 911 call
Why aren’t the police officers out there yet? What’s he saying?
What’s taking the cops so damn long?
Even more serious questions come afterward, about the conduct of the mayor, the conduct of the officers at the scene and in the crucial minutes after the chase ended, and in the conduct of city government officials in failing to document the incident and in refusing to answer questions or release any other evidence that will let the public know what really happened here.
What did take the officers so long?
Were they aware of how serious this incident could have been?
Did they know it was the mayor before they came out, and if so, did that influence their response?
Is the seemingly nonchalant manner in which they responded to this frantic 911 call typical and how would they handle the situation if my wife or daughters were involved?
How much did the 911 operator convey to city police about what was happening and were they aware of the potential seriousness?
Why did three officers approach the mayor before anyone went to talk to the woman in the van?
If the woman said the man chasing her was drunk, why wasn’t he given a breathalyzer test to determine his blood-alcohol content?
Why didn’t they press charges?
Did they talk the woman out of it later?
Did they just let the mayor drive home?
Why didn’t they bring both parties into the police station for a consultation?
Why, when city police realized the mayor was involved, didn’t they call in an independent police agency like the state police to take over, knowing the potential for a conflict of interest?
Sara Foss column
Did the mayor get special treatment because he was the mayor?
There are some questions for which we already have answers.
We do know that the mayor’s conduct, no matter his justification, was inappropriate, dangerous and potentially criminal. There was no reason for him to act the way he did, chasing a driver through the city streets, flashing his lights, pulling out in front of the woman’s vehicle and blocking it, demanding she get out of the car and go into the police station with him. What was his end game? She led him to police. Was he planning to just pull her over? It doesn’t matter if he thought she was committing a crime. That’s why you call the police, to handle such things. But somehow, his phone malfunctioned when he tried to call.
How were the women to know if this driver wasn’t some psycho trying to pull them over to rape or murder them? Would you?
The mayor even put his own safety in jeopardy. What if the people he was chasing were armed and started shooting at him instead of garbage pickers or car burglars or drug users, as he says he thought they were? (His story keeps evolving.)
We tell drivers, particularly women, that if they feel threatened by someone, even someone identifying themselves as a police officer, to call 911 and drive directly to the police station. That’s what these women, clearly feeling threatened, did.
The mayor knew what to do when he witnessed a crime. He knew how his conduct could have been perceived by the driver he was following. He knew all this, yet he did it anyway. And for that, only he can answer.
We also know that police are not being forthcoming about their activities, beyond the release of the 911 call. Police Commissioner Wayne Bennett isn’t answering questions about the incident. The city police department’s spokesman, Lt. Mark McCracken, not only has been less than forthcoming, but has been belligerent to reporters asking legitimate questions to which the public deserves answers.
As of Friday, no camera footage from the police station or along the route of the pursuit had been released that could give the public a genuine perspective of how the mayor’s chase really played out — such as how close he got to the vehicle and how often he flashed his lights — nothing that might give indications of his degree of belligerence or potential intoxication.
Police didn’t document the incident, as far as they’ve said. There’s no standard incident report for the public to review, no report from police on their interview with the mayor or the women involved.
Nothing that could shed more light. Nothing to assure the public that this was handled properly or that a similar incident would be handled properly if you or I or someone we loved were involved.
The only way for the public to be sure this matter isn’t being swept under the rug — either to protect the mayor or the police for the way they handled the situation — is for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to conduct an independent review of all that happened that night.
McCarthy was a longtime investigator in District Attorney Robert Carney’s office prior to entering public office. An investigation by the Schenectady district attorney’s office would present an obvious appearance of a conflict.
The attorney general’s office would be able to review all the cameras and to get responses from all the involved parties — including the mayor, the driver, other witnesses, the 911 operator, the officers at the scene and their superiors. His investigators could ascertain whether police should have tested the mayor for drunken driving or whether they should have documented their interviews and filed a report.
Take it out of the hands of the city officials entirely. Remove the cloud of suspicion.
If the investigation exonerates the mayor and the police, all’s well. But if it turns out there was manipulation and malfeasance, the investigation would ensure the offending parties are properly punished.
All the public wants here is the truth.
At the very least, the citizens are entitled to that.