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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 22, 2009
“Case closed,” says super
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND Former Police Chief James Murley’s recent plea deal won’t likely be the end of the nearly two-year investigation that led up to it.
“We need an open discussion about what transpired and what was the response from the town government,” Councilman Mark Grimm said this week.
Murley, who was put on paid administrative leave by the town in February 2007 in the wake of allegations, retired after 35 years with the Guilderland Police Department with a deal that maintained his retirement benefits from the $97,000-a-year job.
Earlier this month, he pleaded guilty in Albany City Court to a charge of official misconduct for leaving work repeatedly to gamble. He was fined $800, had to pay $13,500 in restitution to the town, and was ordered to get counseling for a gambling addiction.
Grimm, who took his seat on the town board in 2008, about a year after the start of the investigation, has made a Freedom of Information Law request to the State Police for all documents regarding the case, he said.
Senior Investigator Steven Ortiz, who ran the investigation, said yesterday that he interviewed all members of the Guilderland Police Department, “every single one,” and most civilian employees as well as many Town Hall workers over the course of his year-and-a-half investigation.
When the Albany County District Attorney’s Office passed the investigation to the State Police after getting it from the town, the initial allegations were sick leave abuse, sexual harassment, and official misconduct, Ortiz said.
“The reality is, either Ken Runion knew about this and did nothing or he didn’t know about it and that’s a serious oversight issue,” Grimm said. Grimm, one of two Republicans on the five-member town board, has frequently been critical of Supervisor Kenneth Runion, a Democrat.
Runion said yesterday that, after getting the initial complaint of sexual harassment in February of 2007, “My first action was to put Chief Murley on administrative leave.” The leave allows for the process of an investigation to start, since employees feel more comfortable coming forward with complaints if the alleged offender is out of the office, he said. A few months later, the town turned the investigation over to the district attorney’s office and Murley retired.
“There is no hearing process for this,” Runion said of Grimm’s request. It is a two-year-old complaint that has been dealt with and, he said, “The case is closed.”
On Jan. 9, Murley pleaded guilty to the charge of official misconduct, a misdemeanor, for leaving work 53 times between Feb. 23, 2001 and Aug. 18, 2004 to gamble at Turning Stone Casino, in Verona, N.Y. (See www.AltamontEnterprise.com under archives for Jan. 15 in Guilderland for coverage).
This week, Grimm cited a statement Linda Dygert, who had worked as a police department secretary, made to Ortiz on Sept. 28, 2007. According to a copy of the statement obtained by The Enterprise, Dygert said that she told Carol Lawlor and Curtis Cox about Murley’s “constant sexual harassment” while she worked as his secretary from March 1998 to April 2003. Lawlor was deputy chief at the time, and is now chief of police. Cox was a lieutenant and is now a captain.
“These were sworn statements and they were never acted on,” Grimm said of the allegations.
“There was grounds for them,” Ortiz said yesterday of the sexual harassment charges. “That’s why we pursued them.”
Ortiz conducted the investigation, he said, but the district attorney’s office hammered out the plea deal with Murley’s lawyer. “His attorney met with the district attorney and they decided, ‘OK, he will plead to this as opposed to that,’ and then they struck an agreement,” Ortiz summarized.
“Mr. Murley was prosecuted based on charges the information and evidence can support,” said Heather Streeter Orth, spokesperson for the district attorney’s office. She also said that the reason the span of time named in the plea ends in 2004 was because from 2005 to 2007, there were “very few instances we found that he was at the casino during the day.”
On getting records from Turning Stone, Ortiz said, “Whenever you go up there… people, we call them frequent fliers, have accounts. So, we were able to subpoena those records and they detailed dates and times that he was there dates and times he should have been at work.”
Murley could not be reached for comment.
“I never witnessed this stuff,” said Pat House, Murley’s long-time secretary who worked with him from the 1970s through the 1990s. “He is a good man. He doesn’t deserve this,” she said yesterday.
As far as the gambling addiction for which the court has ordered Murley to receive counseling, House said, “I have no idea what goes on in his personal life,” and added that, as an officer, “your time isn’t your own,” since those on the police force are often called out at odd hours to respond to emergencies and then do paperwork. “As far as I’m concerned,” she concluded, “any time he had that was his, he deserved.”
On the matter of sexual harassment, House said, “He was always a perfect gentleman.” She spoke highly of her former superior and said, sometimes, “people misconstrue things.”
Cox told Ortiz in his official statement that, around attractive women, Murley “would often use the term ‘schwang,’ which is a derogatory reference to a male’s penis with an erection.”
“He would also very often be waiting outside as I walked to my car at the end of the day and whistle at me and make the ‘schwang,’” Dygert said in her statement.
“He would constantly stare at me and many other females from head to toe and literally drool while looking directly at women’s breasts,” she said in her statement. Dygert didn’t want to be in the same room alone with Murley, she told Ortiz, and she feared retribution from Murley if she were to make complaints.
Dygert could not be reached this week for comment.
“It is now my understanding that his actions made some female employees uncomfortable, specifically Linda Dygert, and that may have been [among her] reasons for… retirement,” Cox said at the conclusion of his statement.
Yesterday, Grimm noted that Dygert had told Cox and Lawlor that she was being harassed and Grimm asked, “What was done about it?”
“I can tell you that I’ve never ignored a complaint in 30 years as a police officer,” Lawlor said. “Certain criteria have to be met to go forward with a complaint and that doesn’t always happen,” she said, adding that there must be a written statement from the victim and witnesses.
When asked if she had noticed a shift in the last few decades over what is considered acceptable office behavior, Lawlor said, “I think people are more aware of what’s allowable. Because of that, I think there’s probably an increase everywhere,” she said of sexual harassment charges. “Certainly, I think the work place now is different than it was 20 years ago not that it [sexual harassment] was ever right.”