The Town of Bethlehem released on Friday, Sept. 18, a transcript of a conversation Chief of Police Louis Corsi had with former Albany County Undersheriff John Mahan in which Corsi used a racial slur.
The conversation occurred on Jan. 26, 2006, at 10:46 a.m., and Corsi is quoted as telling Mahan I got [racial epithet]s in the woodpile.
The discovery of Corsi’s statement follows a nearly four-month investigation conducted by Deputy Police Chief Timothy Beebe, who located the call Monday, Sept. 14.
The Bethlehem Town Board went into a specially convened executive session for more than three hours on Friday to discuss the matter. After conferring with the Public Integrity Unit of the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Town Attorney James Potter said he believes Corsi’s behavior does not rise to the level of a criminal action.
Speaking on behalf of the Town Board, Supervisor Jack Cunningham released the following statement:
`The statement made by Chief Corsi was insensitive, offensive and wholly inappropriate, even in a private conversation. I am disappointed that the chief would use this type of language under any circumstances.`
In an interview, Cunningham said that despite the investigation’s findings, he does not believe Corsi to be a bigot.
`In my experience in working with the chief he never indicated to me that he was racist or prejudiced in any way,` Cunningham said.
In May, Officer Chris Hughes alleged that Corsi had used the racial slur during a phone conversation two years prior regarding a possible leak in the department. The town launched an investigation shortly thereafter.
`I think he singled-handedly has destroyed what was one of the best police departments in the capital district,` Hughes said of Corsi on Friday.
Hughes has been out on sick leave from the department and was served two 30-day suspensions in May on two charges that he refutes and has filed grievances on. On Friday, Sept. 4, he was stripped of his badge and firearm.
Hughes also alleged that Corsi attempted to have the conversation erased from the department’s archives. Potter said that while Corsi did speak to communications officers, his actions were not illegal.
`No public record was ever destroyed. We have the tape, and based on our investigation of what the chief said or might have said, we don’t think that there’s any crime associated with any conversation he had,` said Potter. `I don’t believe he requested to have the tape erased. He may have inquired whether it was possible to have the tape erased.`
`I hear a lot of mincing of words,` Hughes said. `The bottom line is ‘erased’ and ‘tapes’ were used in the same sentence.`
As for the comment itself, the town concluded that the slur was not made in reference to a particular individual.
`You can see from the tape that was not evident in any case. That was a conversation between two police officers that happened to be recorded,` Potter said.
The investigation has been criticized for its length and the fact Beebe was heading it, with Hughes and the Bethlehem Police Benevolent Association calling for an independent look. The town has said that the CDs up for review ` 51 in all ` contained confidential information.
`There could have been ways to sensitively and confidentially expand the resources that were involved in the review of the digital material to find the transcript that was found on Monday,` said Councilman Sam Messina. `I think it could have been handled more expeditiously.`
Shortly after the town announced its findings on Friday, Corsi, who has remained silent throughout the investigation, released a statement.
`I sincerely apologize for my use of improper and inappropriate language during the course of that conversation. While I am sorry I used this language, it was not directed at any individual or group. I did not intend any bigotry, harm or prejudice in my words. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not condone this type of language publicly or privately,` Corsi said.
Officials The Spotlight spoke with declined to say what, if any, disciplinary actions will be imposed on Corsi, saying that determination is a `personnel matter` and they are thus barred from discussing it. Cunningham did say he expects the Town Board to address the matter in an executive session some time during the week of Sept. 21.