Letter of six Common Council Members to the State Investigation Committee requesting an investigation of the Albany Police Department
Published on 3/17/2008
March 17, 2008
Commission of Investigation
59 Maiden Lane
New York, New York 10038
Dear Mr. Cartusciello:
We, the President and five members of the Albany Common Council, are requesting that the Commission undertake an investigation of the Albany Police Department’s handling of complaints of police misconduct. Over the years, residents, as well as Common Council members, have noted a disturbing trend of improper behavior by some members of the Albany Police Department with inadequate or insufficient responses by police administration. Many Albany residents believe that these incidents are indicative of serious and pervasive attitudes that threaten to undermine trust in police authority, show disregard for citizens’ civil rights, and erode the public confidence in their government. This attitude was underscored at a recent meeting of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, when many residents expressed their ongoing observations of questionable interactions between the police and residents, particularly in poor, minority communities.
We are concerned that there are instances in which the department’s administration has failed, over many years and under the supervision of five police chiefs in less than ten years, to institute policies providing for the adequate training, supervision and discipline of police officers. Additionally, the City administration declines to provide requested information to the public and public officials. We are also concerned that the Department’s Office of Professional Standards, which is responsible for investigating citizens’ complaints, is failing to adequately respond to serious allegations of misconduct. The following are examples that have been highlighted in recent months:
1. On February 27, 2008, Officer William Bonanni was found liable of brutalizing a black suspect in a civil case brought before a federal jury. The victim Phillip Lewis claimed that Bonanni stood on Lewis’s head and ground his face into the asphalt and pulled down Lewis’ pants and searched between his buttocks for contraband in full public view. During the course of the trial, it was noted that Officer Bonanni has a history of eight complaints (all filed by African-American individuals) of excessive physical force lodged against him over the course of his 17 year career, with no apparent efforts by administration to require counseling or re-training. Only one of the complaints was sustained by the police department’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS). The City of Albany also was held liable for failure to provide proper supervision, training and discipline of Officer Bonanni. Police Officer Bonanni remains employed by the Albany Police Department.
2. A 28 year old woman, Lisa Shutter, was pulled over by Albany Police on December 22, 2007 for allegedly not using her turn signal. She was driving a rental car. Without a search warrant and without her permission, the police confiscated her cell phone and allegedly conducted a body cavity search on a public street. She allegedly was told she fit the profile for someone conducting illegal activity, that of “a white woman driving a rental car in a poor neighborhood.” Ms. Shutter was not charged with any crime. She complained of her treatment to the police’s OPS and states that she was discouraged from filing a complaint with the Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB). No disciplinary action against the officers involved has yet been taken.
3. A March 5, 2008 TIMES UNION article reports that the Albany Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards had not acted upon complaints by police department employee Shirley Morton about the conduct of Sgt. Kevin McKenna. In early January, Sgt. McKenna’s behavior escalated to leveling a loaded handgun at Ms. Morton’s head while she was at work. Ms. Morton complained to the Albany County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit and Sgt. McKenna has since been indicted on a misdemeanor charge of menacing. He also was suspended by the department.
4. A March 10, 2008 TIMES UNION article reports that 22 year-old Crystal Royal from Troy, NY has publicly accused Albany Police of strip searching her and forcing her to undergo a pelvic cavity search at Albany Medical Center Hospital as a result of a traffic stop on January 28, 2008. Albany detectives were allegedly following her car because they believed the car occupants may have been involved with an illegal drug transaction, however, no drugs were found in the vehicle or on anyone in the car. Royal was later charged with a felony drug conspiracy count and arraigned in Albany City Court, sent to Albany County Jail and later released on bond. This stop may have been the result of a court approved wire tap but it is not clear if police had search warrants to search her car or conduct two separate cavity searches.
5. In 2007, the TIMES UNION ran a series of articles concerning illegal gun purchases made through the Albany Police Department for personal use by police officers and their friends in the early 1990’s. The story came to light when one of the guns turned up in an ATF raid on a local gun store. Although the police administration had learned of the purchases several years ago, no disciplinary action was taken against officers who made the purchases, and the department refuses to identify the officers involved. The department is legally fighting the newspaper’s attempt to FOIL the information, and has also refused to share the information with the Common Council.
6. In 2001, the Common Council formed a Citizens Police Review Board as an additional, public oversight of allegations of misconduct by police officers. Although the ordinance states that the Office of Professional Standards is required to notify the Board of all complaints of misconduct within two business days, the department has at times chosen not to do this. Instead, they discuss with the complainant whether the statement should be forwarded. In fact, there are allegations that the office has actively discouraged complainants from taking their concerns directly to the board.
These incidents are the most recent of similar ones that have occurred in recent decades, despite the efforts of five separate department heads. The seriousness of these allegations, and their seemingly systemic nature, has raised concerns across the city about the actions of police officers, the vast majority of whom conduct themselves in a professional, respectful manner. In asking for this investigation, we hope to pinpoint where the department’s policies and procedures are failing to protect both the public and the reputations of our many fine officers from the inappropriate conduct of some. In addition, we ask that you review existing policies and training procedures to determine whether they are adequate to discourage and prevent misconduct, and to adequately discipline officers who violate them.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns, and we look forward to hearing from you in the near future. Any correspondence or contact should be addressed to:
Hon. Shawn M. Morris, President
Albany Common Council
24 Marinello Terrace
Albany, NY 12209
(518) 426-0530 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shawn M. Morris, President
Dominick Calsolaro, Councilmember, 1st Ward
Carolyn McLaughlin, Council Member, 2nd Ward
Corey Ellis, Councilmember, 3rd Ward
Barbara Smith, Councilmember, 4th Ward
Catherine Fahey, Councilmember, 7th Ward