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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 30, 2009
Runion defends chief
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Councilman Mark Grimm, mulling a run for town supervisor, says he’s interested in letting people know the truth about the Guilderland Police Department.
Grimm, a Republican, has often been at odds with the Democratic incumbent, Kenneth Runion, who says Grimm’s recent peddling of documents to the local press is to advance his political position.
At issue is the implication that the current police chief, Carol Lawlor, and her husband, John Tashjian, now retired from the police force, bought promotions by lending money to James Murley, Guilderland’s long-time police chief. No charges have been brought against either.
In 2007, the town began investigating Murley for sexual harassment, misconduct in connection with a vendor, violation of the town’s ethics laws, and misconduct in keeping attendance records. He resigned that April, but the Albany County District Attorney’s office continued its investigation.
This January, Murley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct for leaving work repeatedly to gamble; the judge ordered him to get counseling for a gambling addiction. Between Feb. 23, 2001 and Aug. 18, 2004, Murley failed to file leave forms from work 53 times, and filed sick leave forms three times, when he was absent from work to go to Turning Stone Casino, according to court papers.
The Altamont Enterprise submitted a Freedom of Information Law request two weeks ago for investigative records from the Murley case. Heather Orth, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office, said only one other FOIL request for those records had been made by Mark Grimm. His request was granted, Orth said.
The Enterprise sifted through a carton of records this week; most of the records were complaints by female town employees, and several other women, about sexual harassment, for which Murley was not charged.
The records include bank account transfers from Tashjian to Murley totaling $3,000. The transfers were all made in 2006, spaced out from February to October.
The promotions that were allegedly linked to the loans, however, were made before the transfers. Lawlor was appointed deputy chief of police in January 2006, while Tashjian was promoted in January 2005.
In addition to the money from Tashjian, the records showed that Sergeant Adam Myers loaned Murley money, and once paid a vet bill for him while Murley was at the casino. The record said that Myers “felt uncomfortable not letting him borrow money,” and stated that he feared “retaliation.” Myers, who is on medical leave, could not be reached for comment this week.
Lawlor told The Enterprise, “This case is closed, it’s over. I’m moving on with public safety.” She declined further comment.
Also, Debra Murley, wife of the former chief, reached at their home, said he did not care to comment.
Runion said the money that exchanged hands had nothing to do with promotions. “It is not improper for employees to loan each other money, and it was between friends,” he said.
“Mr. Runion said he couldn’t comment on the investigation when it was ongoing, but now it’s over, and the documents show that Runion and Lawlor were actively involved in a cover-up,” said Grimm.
To the contrary, Runion asserted again this week that Lawlor was the one who brought to the town’s attention that Murley was gambling on town time.
The Enterprise reported a year ago (go online to www.altamontenterprise.com, under Guilderland archives for May 8, 2008) that, during her second-round interview for the chief’s post, Acting Chief Lawlor was asked why information regarding the beleagured chief hadn’t come to the surface sooner. She furnished the town board with an order adopted during Murley’s tenure.
“She presented it as evidence of this gag order, making it difficult to come forward,” said Grimm at the time; he had asked the prompting question of Lawlor. This order reflects the secrecy that is inherent in the police department, he said then, a department for which Lawlor had worked for 30 years.
“The question is,” Grimm said, “what role did she play?”
Within a month of Murley’s departure, Lawlor approached Supervisor Runion with the order and decided to rescind it, Runion said last year, and re-asserted yesterday.
“It was not to quiet officers about any wrongdoing on anybody’s part or anything else, for Christ’s sake,” Murley said last year. He wrote the order in 1992 and the town board at the time passed it when the department was in discussions about switching its weapons from service revolvers to semi-automatic weapons. A councilman at the time had asked an officer about the debate, Murley said, and “it was probably an innocent thing…but we don’t have everybody and their brother talking about policy.”
Redlich, a lawyer who has been critical of the Democrats on the board for what he calls promoting “insiders,” said a year ago, “This is a document that says there is a culture of secrecy in the department.” He and Grimm pushed for a process that would include a range of candidates.
“It’s my view that we need somebody from outside to come in and clean up the mess,” Redlich said last year.
“That’s a lie and it insults the integrity of the men and women who serve,” Lawlor responded last year.
Grimm re-asserted yesterday that Runion knew about Murley’s inappropriate behavior, and that Lawlor was also aware of Murley’s penchant for gambling, and his sexual harassment, at the time of her appointment, but that neither of them did anything about it.
Runion told The Enterprise that he fully disclosed everything he knew to Grimm, his fellow Republican, Warren Redlich, and all town board members, and, he said, Grimm refused to look at the files before Lawlor was appointed. Grimm quizzed Lawlor about the Murley investigation during her interviews, and Lawlor answered all of his questions appropriately, said Runion.
Grimm, however, said that Lawlor, at the time of her appointment, claimed to know nothing about Murley’s misconduct. “And the official documents prove that’s not true,” he said.
Included in the investigative records is a sworn statement from Captain Curtis Cox, which said that, during emergencies, Lawlor would page Murley at Turning Stone using the code name “Boyeau.” Grimm said that the fact that Lawlor knew his location proved that she was involved in a cover-up.
Grimm was soundly chastised for his criticism of Lawlor on the night of her appointment, but said, “Now I know I did the right thing at that meeting. The public had a right to know about the deception, and now they will wonder why she didn’t speak up. This information is eye-opening, and it’s a shame.”
“She has done a great job as police chief, and she has a great deal of respect from the rank and file,” said Runion, stating he had no regrets in nominating and appointing Lawlor.
Grimm and his fellow Republican, Redlich, favored another outside candidate for police chief and voted against Lawlor’s appointment.
Grimm maintained that the facts now speak for themselves. “What we have here is a pervasive case of deception,” he said. “Whether or not this will effect elections in the fall is for the public to decide.”