The fallout from Bethlehem Police Chief Louis Corsi’s alleged audiotape of him making derogatory remarks continues as Supervisor Jack Cunningham disputes some details of police officer Christopher Hughes’ portrayal of a conversation between Hughes and the supervisor.
Cunningham contends Hughes told him he had a copy of the three-year old Corsi audiotape, in which the police chief allegedly uses a racial slur, when the two met on May 17. Hughes claims he specifically told the supervisor he never had the tape and wrote a letter to the town stating as such on May 21.
Hughes represented to me that he had a copy of the audiotape in his possession, Cunningham told The Spotlight. `Right now the matter is under investigation but I am going to a meeting with the people who hold the disks this week, the whole thing is a lengthy process.`
The audio recordings are contained on disks held by the county.
Hughes said he was careful in his language with Cunningham and that he never claimed to have a copy of the tape. `My recollection of nearly exactly what was said was, ‘It’s my understanding that there are copies out there,` said Hughes.
The Albany County District Attorney’s Office is currently investigating the matter, as well as Hughes’ May 28 allegations of being targeted by the town and department brass after speaking out about the tape and internal matters.
He spoke with Cunningham on May 17 and was issued an `intent to conduct an interrogation` notice two days later on May 19.
Bethlehem Town Attorney James Potter said the town is researching the legal ramifications of the allegations in question.
`Assuming the statement was made, whether that could be the subject of disciplinary action is something that we’re looking into,` he said. Potter added that the outcome of the case would still remain a `personnel matter.`
`Of course people think I got off half-cocked because I’ve known this a long time that the rumor is out there, but I do my homework and it’s not a rumor, it’s fact,` Hughes said. `Sources who do not want to be named tell me there are copies of that tape out there.`
Hughes claims Corsi asked subordinates in the communications department to erase the tapes.
`I don’t know the exact date of this, but [it] couldn’t be erased if they wanted to erase it, the technology was not in place to do that,` Hughes said. `If it could be done, they would have done it.`
Cunningham and Potter agree that dispatchers couldn’t erase the tape.
Hughes said he exposed the audiotape because Corsi was targeting him for causing waves and being vocal about union issues.
`I told [Cunningham] about the tape to prove a point that the chief and the command staff are throwing stones here and living in a glass house,` Hughes said. `All I want to do is come back to work and be treated fairly.`
Hughes is still out of work on an undisclosed medical leave, not for the back-to-back suspensions he was dealt in recent months.
Hughes contends the charges are bogus and the Bethlehem Police Benevolent Association is in the middle of a grievance on his behalf.
Cunningham said he doesn’t believe there have been any other suspensions during his past three years as supervisor. Hughes said suspensions are rare but have happened at least `two or three times` in the department during his 13 years on the force.
Hughes has been vocal about union issues over the past few years, including the decision to remove police sergeants from the grievance process. Hughes said he was willing to show Cunningham his personnel records in order to prove he was not a problematic officer, but was unable because he has not been allowed access to them. `I told him I would love to show him [my record] but I’ve been FOILing the town for months and they won’t give me my file,` said Hughes.
Both sides say the other is falsely misrepresenting the facts of the case to prove the other one is discriminating or trying to prove misconduct.
`The timing of this is really the issue,` said Hughes. Hughes said he came forward because he had no other choice.
`Do I want to do this stuff? Do I want to embarrass my police department?` Hughes asked. `No, of course not, but I’m being forced to because the chain of command has been broken and I’m forced up against the wall.`
The following is a timeline of actions taken by Town of Bethlehem officials and police officer Chris Hughes regarding an alleged racist comment made by Bethlehem Chief Louis Corsi:
Dec. 16, 2008 `Corsi sends a letter to officer Hughes regarding `a pattern of abuse or excessive sick time use.`
March 12, 2009 ` Hughes writes a six-page letter to Bethlehem PBA president about internal problems.
March 16 ` Hughes sends an addendum to the March 12 letter to the PBA president about `false rumors` and more internal issues.
April 3 ` Hughes does not show up for his shift and calls in sick for what his doctor later diagnoses as a Strep infection.
April 5 ` Hughes sends a new six-page letter to the PBA president asking for his personnel file and complains of more internal problems. He hands in a doctor’s note for his most recent absence.
April 10 ` Corsi sends a letter to Hughes about absences on April 3-5, saying the doctor’s note he supplied was `inadequate,` and asks for `specific information.`
April 14 ` Hughes’ doctor writes a letter stating Hughes had `a Strep infection` and was advised to remain out of work until April 8 `because he could have been contagious.` A 30-day suspension over the April 3 absence is believed to be given around this time, but the document is undated.
April 21 ` Corsi sends a second letter to Hughes directing him to provide additional medical documentation `by not later than April 28, 2009.`
Hughes drops off five copies of a letter about the matter at Town Hall for the board. Supervisor Jack Cunningham doesn’t disseminate the letters on advice of counsel.
April 23 ` Hughes sends Corsi a response to his two previous letters saying the request is a `direct violation` of HIPPA and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Hughes hands over the April 14 doctor’s letter `under protest.` The PBA files a grievance against Hughes’ first 30-days suspension.
May 10 ` Hughes claims a scheduling conflict occurs for the Mother’s Day Race. The town states he filed for overtime on this day without showing up.
May 17 ` Hughes goes to Cunningham’s home to discuss internal issues in the department. Cunningham says Hughes claimed he had an alleged audiotape of Corsi making racist comments. Hughes denies the claim, states he only talked of its existence.
May 19 ` Hughes is issued an `intent to conduct interrogation` for possible criminal charges in regards to his conversation with Cunningham.
May 21 ` Hughes sends a letter to Town Hall saying he never had the audiotape, nor said he did, and states he and newly hired attorney Steve Coffey will not attend the `interrogation.`
Hughes calls Councilman Sam Messina to ask if he received the April 21 letter. Messina states he never got the letter.
May 22 ` Hughes is given his second 30-day suspension from the town and charged with three new counts of misconduct on his over-time request for the Mother’s Day Race.
May 23 ` Messina finds a letter `with several addendums attached` inside of his home mailbox. The letter was not in an envelope, but was from Hughes.
May 26 ` The PBA files a second grievance on behalf of Hughes against the new 30-day suspension.
May 28 ` Hughes files a formal compliant with the DA’s office about Corsi’s alleged tape and being targeted by the town for speaking to Cunningham about the matter.
May 30 ` The DA’s office confirms its Public Integrity Unit is investigating the matter.
June 3 ` Cunningham holds an `informational` executive session at Town Hall to update board members of the situation. The board takes no action on the matter.