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Schenectady council discusses potential policy in wake of DA’s report

Schenectady council discusses potential policy in wake of DA’s report

Mayor McCarthy involved in car chase
Schenectady council discusses potential policy in wake of DA’s report
The Schenectady City Council meets on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017.
Photographer: BRETT SAMUELS

Schenectady City Council members on Monday night weighed their options in responding to recommendations stemming from a police investigation of the mayor.

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen on Jan. 13 released a report saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Mayor Gary McCarthy in a late-night car chase last May, but the document also suggested city police could have better handled the investigation.

Most notably, Heggen said officers on the scene that night should have called an outside agency to conduct the investigation. During Monday night’s committee meeting, council members discussed whether they should implement policy for city police to follow when handling similar situations in the future.

“My main focus is the fact that we had recommendations handed to us from the district attorney outside of the county, and also, in all honesty, I think for our citizens there exists a significant gray area,” said City Council President Leesa Perazzo.

On May 19, McCarthy got into his truck and followed a woman through his neighborhood to the Schenectady police headquarters. She claimed he was intoxicated and wouldn’t let her go, while he denied being drunk and said she was either digging through trash or breaking into cars near his home.

McCarthy has declined to comment on the report and was not present Monday night. The city Police Department is handling the report internally as a personnel matter.

Only a few council members actually spoke about the possibility of setting policy based on the report, and it remains unclear what power the council has to set such standards. The language of any potential policy would have to fall under the council’s purview as outlined in the city charter.

“The devil’s in the details with this stuff,” City Attorney Carl Falotico said Monday night. Depending on what specifically the council would like to implement, it may fall under the scope of the council, or of the mayor to do so, he said.

Perazzo emphasized that her goal is to ensure the success of city officers if they find themselves in similar circumstances to the McCarthy investigation in the future.

She asked Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber if the Schenectady Police Department had looked into whether other law enforcement agencies have a protocol to address similar cases.

Seber said he had contacted other departments to see, but had not heard back.

Typically, Seber said, the city department does not refer cases to an outside agency unless there’s a conflict of interest. The department sees it as its obligation to investigate what happens in the city fairly and thoroughly, he said.

“Other law enforcement agencies may not want to come into the city on a regular basis,” he said. “I’m not trying to talk about policy here, but if it’s our backyard, it’s our backyard.”

Riggi, the councilman who first called for an outside investigation into McCarthy’s late night chase, said this particular case was special since the mayor is the boss of the Police Department. He wanted to know if Schenectady police would act on the recommendations.

“Heggen’s recommendations were pretty clear, specifically to this case, that an outside entity should have been called in,” Riggi said. “So I guess my question is, is that going to be done in the future? If somebody, like the mayor, happens to get pulled over and accused of something, are they going to call in an outside agency?”

“I can’t answer that right now, I don’t have the authority to answer that,” Seber responded.

Seber said repeatedly he was at Monday night’s meeting “to be a sponge” and take any comments back to Police Chief Eric Clifford and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett.

Perazzo said the council will look for information on what the Police Department is doing in response to the report, but in the meantime reiterated that she felt the council needed to address the issue.

“I don’t think this council is prepared to put policy in place,” she said. “But I do think we need to discuss it. We can’t ignore the fact that these recommendations were put forth.”

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