After alleging Bethlehem Police Chief Louis Corsi tried to cover up a racist remark made during a phone call, officer Christopher Hughes is still out of work as Deputy Police Chief Timothy Beebe is going through hours of recorded conversations looking for the three-year-old alleged incident.
Standing his ground, as he puts it, Hughes told The Spotlight on Wednesday, Aug. 19, that he was offered a deal by Town Attorney Michael Smith to drop his grievances against back-to-back 30-day suspensions from the Bethlehem Police Department in return for a written disciplinary notice and the loss of three vacation days.
Hughes said he rejected the notion of signing off on any of the department’s charges against him.
I didn’t do anything wrong and they know that, my 13-year record speaks for itself, Hughes said. `If they had something substantial on me they would have made this go away along time ago, and not added another charge when they figured out the first ridiculous charges couldn’t stick.`
On June 8, the town added a charge of `insubordination and failure to act in proper manner to/with a superior officer` to original charges of misconduct that resulted in the consecutive 30-day suspensions. The Spotlight first reported the issue on May 28.
The police department’s union has filed grievances against both of the suspensions. The grievances are in negotiations.
Hughes filed formal complaints against Corsi and others with the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, and claims to the DA he is being targeted after speaking to Supervisor Jack Cunningham at his home in May about internal problems at police department.
Cunningham claimed Hughes told him he had a copy of a three-year old audiotape with Corsi telling a former member of Albany County Sheriff’s Department, `We have a [racial expletive] in the wood pile,` in reference to one of his administrative officers.
Hughes said he never told Cunningham he had a copy, but said that one merely existed, and wrote a letter to the town stating as such on May 21. Furthermore, Hughes maintains that the problem he reported had more to do with a superior allegedly asking his subordinates to destroy an audio recording then what the actual recording contained.
Cunningham said he was originally under the impression that Albany County held the audio recordings from the police department, but town attorney James Potter said recently that Beebe has 51 CDs on his desk of recorded audio conversations from the time period in question.
`There are hours and hours of conversation inside of those 51 CDs and it’s a very tedious and lengthy process,` Potter said. `It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.`
Potter said Beebe is handling the investigation into the alleged epithet. Potter said he could not speculate as to when the investigation would be complete and, citing a `personnel matter,` said he could not comment any further.
Cunningham also said he could not comment about an ongoing investigation, but questioned Hughes’ credibility when told of a new complaint to Albany County District Attorney David Soares about the Bethlehem Police Department.
`The last time officer Hughes made allegations they turned out to be unsubstantiated,` Cunningham said. `I hope these are not more of the same.`
Hughes said he disagrees.
`This all started because I raised some union issues last year and then I began to get treated differently than the other officers,` Hughes said. `I have a stellar law enforcement record.`
The complaint sent to the DA’s office is specifically against Detective Charles Radliff, whom Hughes has formerly complained about on several occasions, and Lieutenant Thomas Heffernan, who was named as the superior officer in question in the town’s additional insubordination charge against Hughes.
`Det. Radliff was summoned to the scene driving his department-issued vehicle. Within moments of his arrival on scene, it became abundantly clear to myself and Officer [Jeffery] Vunck that Det. Radliff was highly intoxicated,` the complaint reads.
Hughes claims Radliff was found intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol on several different occasions and that Heffernan was made aware of the situation and nothing was done.
Heffernan said he could not respond to the allegations.
`At this point we cannot comment,` he told The Spotlight. Similarly, Heffernan said his officers in question could not comment either.
Hughes was involved in another high-profile police matter: The arrest and guilty plea of Albany police detective George McNally, of Bethlehem, of DWI and reckless driving earlier this month in Albany County Court.
McNally admitted to driving from Albany into Bethlehem intoxicated, hitting a parked car and nearly hitting several others, before being taken into custody at his Delmar home by Albany police.
An Albany police sergeant, Peter J. McKenna, was reportedly suspended for his alleged actions that night.
Heffernan said McKenna never communicated directly with his men and that he only went to the Bethlehem Police Department `hours after the incident` to have Bethlehem officers escort Albany officers to McNally’s home.
Hughes said Corsi was quoted in an area newspaper as saying he did not want Albany internal affairs investigators interviewing his officers about the incident and that Bethlehem would conduct its own investigation.
However, Hughes said he was ordered to be interviewed by Albany internal affairs in the matter and did so `under protest,` and he questioned why some other officers were not ordered to do the same.
`I told the Albany police I didn’t know anything about the incident. I was on patrol in Slingerlands and I was never contacted or approached by the Albany PD,` Hughes told The Spotlight.
Heffernan, who was present with Hughes when he was interviewed by Albany Police, denied that Hughes was used as some kind of scapegoat.
`Officer Hughes was not the only officer interviewed in this matter,` Heffernan said. `If that is the insinuation, that’s not the case.`
Ryan Streeter, a spokesman for Soares’ office, said public integrity unit complaints cannot be discussed publicly and he said `no comment` when questioned of the matter.
`The complaint cannot be confirmed nor denied,` he said.
Hughes original complaint to the public integrity unit in late May was confirmed by Soares’ spokeswoman Heather Orth at the time.
The new compliant form is identical to the first one and is stamped `Received Albany County District Attorney 2009 Aug. 20 3:09 p.m.`