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No more secrecy in mayor chase

No more secrecy in mayor chase

Release camera footage, hold briefing from police commissioner in public

Hasn't the case of Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy's late-night car chase been corrupted by enough secrecy already?

Isn't it time the public got some straight answers to what happened?

Yet the Schenectady City Council and Schenectady County District Attorney's Office want to keep the wool over the public's eye a bit longer — the council by holding a private briefing with the city police commissioner tonight, and the county by refusing to release the footage from cameras, which that might shed more light on what happened that night.

At issue is what exactly happened when the mayor chased two women through the streets of Schenectady to the city police station early on the morning of May 19, alleging they were in the process of perpetrating some undetermined crime.

The women, in their frantic 911 call to the county dispatch center, said they felt threatened by the mayor's actions, which included flashing his high-beams, and the caller stated to police that she believed he was highly intoxicated.

Yet despite all that, city police filed no charges at the scene against anyone.

The mayor was never given a breath test to determine if he was drunk. And the women's vehicle wasn't searched for contraband from their alleged illegal activities. In fact, police didn't even prepare an incident report about it.

The public has a right to know what's going on. Yet officials seem intent on keeping the public in the dark.

The City Council tonight will host a briefing on the incident from city Police Commissioner Wayne Bennett and city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico. The meeting will be held during a closed-door executive session instead of during the public portion of the meeting.

Why hold the briefing in secret? Why not have the police commissioner brief the entire city, instead of just a few members of the council? Why keep his version of what happened from the public?

If the council decides then to discuss the mayor's fate, it would have a legitimate justification under the state Open Meetings Law to hold that discussion in private.

But the briefing itself?

Why not share it with everyone?

The other aspect of the case being kept secret is the video footage. In a response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request the county denied our petition to see camera footage from that evening.

In the denial, the county stated that District Attorney Robert Carney's office has determined the camera footage was compiled for law enforcement purposes and that to disclose it would reveal the location of the cameras and camera angles, to the detriment of future police surveillance efforts.

On the surface, it seems like those would be legitimate reasons to withhold the footage under FOIL.

But according to the police themselves, there is no ongoing criminal investigation related to the case. So how can they justify withholding the camera footage under the justification that it's being used for law enforcement purposes?

Second, the camera locations aren't a secret. They're visible from public areas.

Isn't the point of displaying the cameras publicly to serve as a deterrent to crime?

If they cameras locations are already known, how can revealing the footage from them undermine any criminal investigations?

The camera footage, in fact, could clear up a lot of questions, such as whether the mayor exhibited any visible signs of intoxication or how aggressive he was being as he followed, blocked and verbally confronted the women in the van.

The public's trust of the parties in this case has been placed in serious jeopardy.

That's why we and others have called on the state attorney general's office to conduct an independent investigation of what happened that night.

In the meantime, government officials could stop fueling that mistrust by being more forthcoming with the information they have and by releasing camera footage for all to see — not just a select few.

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