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Galway police officers, sheriff's deputy arrested

Galway police officers, sheriff's deputy arrested

Charges of falsifying information filed with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
Galway police officers, sheriff's deputy arrested
A Galway police car is pictured on Tuesday.
Photographer: Erica Miller

GALWAY — The chief of the village Police Department, along with two police sergeants and a deputy with the Schenectady County Sheriff's Department, were charged Tuesday with falsifying information. 

They are accused of falsifying police training records.

Chief Leslie Klein faces three counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, felonies. 

Mark Kirker, a Schenectady County sheriff's deputy, who is also an officer with the village police force, is charged with one count of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, a felony.

The Schenectady County Sheriff's Department issued a press release Tuesday stating it is "in the initial stages of reviewing the charges to determine an appropriate course of action." 

Mark LaVoilette and David Goodwin, both sergeants with the Galway Police Department, are also charged with three counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, all felonies. 

LaVoilette, the Schenectady County director of emergency management, retired from the Schenectady City Police Department as a detective in June 2010. 

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office announced the arrests Tuesday, following an investigation into reports that officers falsified documents filed with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. 

According to a press release issued by Schneiderman's office, the officers were arrested after "falsely documenting that certain officers either successfully and properly completed their required period of supervised field training or successfully and properly completed a Field Training Officer Instructor course. 

"The arrests are the culmination of a year-and-a-half investigation – dubbed “Operation Training Day” – by the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau."

In a prepared statement, Schneiderman said the officers' actions put the public in danger.

"Every public official has a fundamental responsibility to uphold the law and protect the trust New Yorkers place in them. As we allege, these officers falsified training records — jeopardizing public safety, violating the public trust, and breaking the law," he said.

Klein, LaVoilette, Goodwin and Kirker pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Tuesday in Albany City Court in front of Judge Gary Stiglmeier. 

To become a certified police officer in New York state, probationary officers are required to attend police academy and complete a basic course for police officers, which includes academic and skills training and a supervised field training period, according to the AG's office.

A total of 160 hours of supervised field training is required for new officers. 

Former police officers in New York state who have not served for four to 10 years can become re-certified by attending police academy and completing a police refresher course, which includes 80 hours of supervised field training.

"During a supervised field training period, a field training officer (FTO) is assigned to a probationary officer and must physically observe and evaluate the probationary officer and document his/her findings on daily observation reports," the press release states. "Since January 2015, an individual is required to successfully complete a 28-hour police field training officer course in order to be an FTO." 

The FTO, the probationary officer, the chief of the police department and the director of the police academy at which the probationary officer completes the course must all sign documents to indicate whether the officer passed or failed to meet the requirements of certification. The documents are then filed with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Prosecutors allege those documents were falsified for Goodwin, Kirker and LaViolette, who were seeking to become certified police officers in the Galway Police Department.

Klein is accused of falsely reporting that the supervised field training was successfully and properly completed. He admitted to investigators he did not always ride with or observe officers on field training and would sign paperwork left on his desk. 

The AG alleges a similar practice was also followed for LaViolette, who was taking the police Field Training Officer course in order to supervise probationary officers and was completing his own probationary officer training to join the Galway Police Department. 

It is alleged that a false report indicated LaViolette and Goodwin had completed a 28-hour police field training course in October 2015. 

A supervised field training orientation and review evaluation summary was also falsely reported with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, according to the AG's report. 

Galway Village Mayor William Hyde said while eight part-time police officers patrol the half-mile village, which has fewer than 200 residents, there are only two or three "regulars" including Klein. 

"Les is honest and doesn't do it for the money," Hyde said of Klein's police service. 

Hyde said Klein told him about the charges in an email on Saturday and said he would be turning himself in on Tuesday. 

"It came as a surprise," Hyde said. "I've known him for over 20 years.

"The courts will decide and the truth will come out."

The village and its Police Department operate out of one room in attorney John Sutton's law office building at 5212 South St.

Hyde said he receives a monthly report from Klein that outlines all of the tickets and violations. 

"I let them run as a police force," Hyde said. "Many of the officers have worked at other places and work here to keep their certification.

"They pay for their own equipment and are given a stipend with the promise of working several hours each week."

Hyde said he hasn't been told that the officers have been suspended and that the village Police Department is anything but in tact.

"Until I'm told otherwise, we have a police force," he said. 

The Police Department was put in place mainly to deter speeding in the village, Hyde said. 

The department's 2018 budget is $11,500 for expenses and $14,000 for salaries. 

The arrests follow a lawsuit filed last year by a former Galway officer who made similar allegations.

Richard Schoonmaker, Sr., filed suit in federal court last June, alleging he was terminated from the department for blowing the whistle on illegal practices there.

Schoonmaker, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement mostly in the Troy Police Department, took a part-time job as a Galway officer in June 2013 and then was promoted to captain in 2014, according to his federal lawsuit that remains pending.

Once promoted, he alleges he was made aware of "a number of illegal and/or improper practices" in the Galway department, according to his suit.

He alleged destruction of evidence in open investigations; possession of automatic weapons by members of the department in violation of firearms laws; officers improperly accessing state criminal computer records; and Klein certifying he had overseen training which he knew had not been completed and requiring officers to submit training certifications he knew had not been performed, according to Schoonmaker's suit.

Schoonmaker alleges he told Klein of the issues and Klein responded by demoting Schoonmaker to patrolman.

Schoonmaker continued to raise his concerns and finally went to the Attorney General's Office by March 2016, his suit reads. He was then terminated from the Galway department on March 2, 2016, which he contends was because he went to the Attorney General's Office.

As a result, Schoonmaker alleges, he has not been able to get another police officer job, despite a 30-year unblemished record. He's tried for full-time employment at 13 departments and part-time employment at six others.

Klein is a defendant in the suit, as is the village of Galway.

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