It wasn't a good week for Schenectady law enforcement.
- We learned that a settlement has been reached in the excessive force lawsuit filed against the city and police officer Mark McCracken.
The exact amount of the settlement remains a closely-kept secret. But I've seen the photo of Nicola Cottone's bloodied head, and I expect it to be big.
It's been a bad stretch for McCracken, who in March accepted an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal of a criminal contempt charge related to an incident involving his wife.
McCracken's poor judgment and bad temper suggest he's become a liability for the city.
He was demoted from lieutenant to patrol officer earlier this year -- a curious punishment for someone found to have used excessive force by the police department's own professional standards unit.
If anything, McCracken's violent treatment of Cottone raises questions about whether he should be in a position that entails interacting with the public -- and whether he should still be employed by the city at all.
- Also last week, we learned that a Schenectady County corrections officer, Robert Sala, resigned before turning himself in to Colonie police on a burglary charge.
This arrest, along with the April resignation of four county correction officers observed entering the home of a former jail guard charged with felony marijuana possession, makes you wonder about the quality of Schenectady County's jail staff.
In an interview with The Daily Gazette, Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said that he makes it a point to rid his staff of bad apples. More than 50 corrections officers have either resigned or been fired in recent years, Dagostino noted..
This might sound like a lot of bad apples. But jails and prisons are plagued by high turnover, in large part because dealing with inmates is stressful, dangerous, unpleasant work. It's difficult to attract quality people to correctional facility jobs, and a certain amount of staffing churn is to be expected.
Normally, I'd applaud Dagostino for taking a no-nonsense approach with troublesome employees. But I'm finding it difficult to do so at the moment. The reason?
- Last week we also learned that Daniel Coppola, the Schenectady police officer who pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired in May, has taken a job as a patrol deputy with the Sheriff's Department. His boss is his stepfather, Dagostino.
This is not the first time the Schenectady County Sheriff's Department has provided a comfortable landing spot for a police officer in trouble.
In 2016, Dagostino hired Michael Geraci Jr., an Albany police officer who resigned after he was accused of assaulting a 12-year-old boy. Geraci, it should be noted, is the son of Michael Geraci Sr., who served as Schenectady police chief from 2002 to 2007.
Dagostino's willingness to hire both Geraci and Coppola undermine his statements about rooting out bad actors.
Beyond that, both hires reek of nepotism.
The county Sheriff's Department is not a family business or a private fiefdom. It's a public agency, and the hiring of a relative who so recently ran afoul of the law raises red flags.
Certainly, it makes you wonder whether there wasn't a better candidate for the job.
It's easy to view last week's headlines -- the excessive-force settlement, the hiring of a troubled police officer, the arrest of a jail guard -- in isolation. But we really shouldn't.
They're all part of a bigger story -- a troubling story.
I don't know how it ends, but I do know this:
The public deserves better.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]