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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 15, 2011

Salerno, APD sued

ALTAMONT — Just before the village named a new public safety commissioner, having spent months trying to bend Civil Service Law in order to keep Anthony Salerno, Johanne Beauvais filed a lawsuit against the police department, Salerno, the Center for Disability Services, and Mary Ellen Smith.

On Nov. 10, 2010, Beauvais first brought her suit alleging misconduct by Salerno.  About a month before that, the village announced that it would seek a new commissioner for its police department.  This fall, judge Gary Sharpe ordered that Beauvais could file an amended complaint.

Earlier in 2010, after it had emerged that Salerno failed to take the Civil Service exam in May that was required for him to keep the post, the village board adopted a structure for the department that made Salerno one of 11 part-time officers, with Mayor James Gaughan supervising the department.  Salerno was named the “team leader” of the department and given a 50-percent pay-rate increase.

Roughly a year before that, in December of 2009, the incident over which Beauvais sued happened.  According to court documents, Beauvais, a nurse, was working for a group home in Altamont run by the Center for Disability Services, when a resident’s Nintendo Wii gaming system went missing.  The house manager, Mary Ellen Smith, asked that she come in for questioning and, when Beauvais arrived at the police station, “She was neither informed that she was permitted to leave at any time, nor of her right to remain silent or to an attorney,” the court papers say.

“Beauvais was accused of stealing a Nintendo Wii system… In lieu of being arrested, she was given the option to either admit that she stole the items, or sign a predrafted letter of resignation,” the papers say.

“She was told that if she did not sign the letter she could be arrested, lose her nursing license, and/or have her children taken away from her,” according to the court papers.

Todd Pucci, the village’s new commissioner who worked in the department at the time, said this week, “That doesn’t sound believable to me.”  Although he doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the case, he said that he did not see Salerno behave that way in his time at the department.

In 2008, the Fields family was in court after their two teenage children got into a fight for which police had been called — Salerno had responded.

“I feel I was coerced by the police chief into saying things that really didn’t happen,” Amanda Fields said at the time of Salerno.  Her parents, Deborah Flansburg and Michael Fields, said that, in the year after the police were called during the fight, the family was harassed by Salerno.

When he was hired provisionally in 2005, Salerno said that teaching kids lessons before their mistakes have serious consequences was one of his missions.

In 2006, Terri Gockley complained to the village board about Salerno’s “excessive and bullying treatment” of her son, who had been arrested for hosting a party at which underage people drank alcohol.  Gockley said that Salerno’s behavior on the night of the arrest was “disturbing.”  Salerno threatened her with felony charges and said, if she didn’t cooperate, her face would be on the front page of the newspaper, she said.

A committee made up of Mayor Gaughan and Trustee Kerry Dineen, both of whom sat on the committee that hired Salerno, looked into Gockley’s complaint and found that “the conduct of the commissioner was proper.”

Gaughan, Salerno, and lawyers for the village did not return calls to The Enterprise this week.

— Saranac Hale Spencer

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