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No internal probe in mayor chase, but questions remain

No internal probe in mayor chase, but questions remain

Officials shrug off queries
No internal probe in mayor chase, but questions remain
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy delivers his State of the City address in January 2014.
Photographer: PATRICK DODSON

SCHENECTADY -- City Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett offered his first public comments Thursday on a report about his department's handling of Mayor Gary McCarthy's controversial encounter with a motorist last year, taking the independent investigator to task for failing to inform his office of the findings.

Bennett also said there is no internal investigation related to the May 19 incident, in which the mayor followed a woman's vehicle through the city to the police station, where he accused her of suspicious activity and she accused him of being intoxicated behind the wheel. No one involved in the incident has been placed on leave, either paid or unpaid, Bennett added.

"There has been no administrative action taken against any member of the police department involved or in connection with this case," Bennett said. 

 

"And it's kind of hard to even consider that possibility when we have nothing from the DA," Bennett said.



Bennett said Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, who was appointed to oversee a review of the incident, did not reach out to him or "city administration" about her findings or to provide any investigative findings. He also said he had not reached out to her about the report, which was issued to the media on Friday.

Heggen said the evidence did not support charges against anyone involved, including McCarthy. But she also said she believed the department should have contacted an outside agency to investigate the incident at the time.

Instead, the lieutenant in charge at the scene, Wesley McGhee, told Heggen he assessed McCarthy for signs of intoxication and, finding none, sent both McCarthy and the female motorist on their way without further action.

The second-highest ranking officer on the scene, Sgt. Michael R. Dalton, testified that he detected an odor of alcohol coming from McCarthy but added he didn't speak with the mayor and wasn't close enough to smell his breath. Dalton also listed other signs that McCarthy acted "out of character." Dalton told Heggen that, if he were in charge, he would have requested an outside agency investigate the incident, due to the mayor's involvement.


Asked about the differences between the two accounts, Bennett said he couldn't comment because he didn't have Heggen's report.

Heggen's 11-page document included question-and-answer depositions from each of the five police officers involved, as well as McCarthy and the woman who leveled the initial accusations, Rotterdam resident Sarah Dingley.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford, who has been out of town this week, said via text message that "we are dealing with it internally as a personnel matter."

McCarthy has not returned calls seeking comment this week.

Contacted Thursday about Bennett's comments, Heggen said she provided the findings and documents to the media, as well as "to others involved."

She said no one from Bennett's office has contacted her for the information. But, she said, based on The Daily Gazette's inquiry, she would send the information to the department.

In her report, Heggen said that, based on her investigation, officers' actions that morning raised concerns. Another agency should have been called in because the the mayor makes decisions related to the department, including promotions.

In addition to McGhee and Dalton, three patrolmen also responded to the 911 call placed by Dingley as the mayor followed her vehicle, at times trying to block her from continuing to drive away.

Listen to the call

Sarah Dingley's 911 call

McCarthy swore-in each of the three patrolmen, records show. He also signed off on promotions for Dalton' and McGhee, and at the time, McGhee held aspirations for the open Chief of Police post, a position that is appointed by the mayor.

McGhee's Civil Service test scores, released the next month, ultimately took him out of consideration for the position.

Bennett questioned the feasibility of calling in an outside agency, saying there's no mechanism in place to do that. He didn't know of any other department in the region that does that.

Representatives of three area police departments gave differing answers Thursday when asked how they would handle a case involving a local elected official. An Albany police spokesman said that department would handle it; elected officials are treated like everyone else. Saratoga Springs and Glenville police officials indicated the incident would be referred up the chain of command and, depending on the facts of the case, they could ask for outside help.

The concept was also something known to Dalton. Heggen asked both McGhee and Dalton whether they believed McCarthy received preferential treatment. McGhee responded simply, "No," but Dalton could not give a definitive answer.

"I don't know," he said, according to his deposition. "I would have called in the State Police to avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Two City Council members this week indicated they want to look into whether they could do anything in response to the Heggen report. Council President Leesa Perazzo said she is reaching out through the city's lawyer on that front.

"Given the circumstances, regardless of the DA's report, I feel that the public has expressed there are still gray areas for them," Perazzo said. "I would like to clear them up for the sake of the mayor and the public."

She added that any elected official's interactions with law enforcement could result in similar questions.

"We should have some kind of policy in place so it doesn't leave any gray area," she said.

Another council member, the first to call for an independent investigation, called the entire incident bizarre and sad.

Vince Riggi said he didn't know what the council could do. But he said he was "surprised and disappointed" that the police department had yet to respond to the recommendations. He noted the situation put each involved officer in a compromising position due to the connections to the mayor, especially McGhee.

"I will say this: only one person put him in this position," Riggi said of McGhee. "The mayor of the City of Schenectady did."

Gazette reporter Brett Samuels contributed to this story

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