By Tyler Murphy
and Melissa Hale-Spencer
VOORHEESVILLE — The New York State Police are looking into a growing dispute involving a Voorheesville resident whose wife left him and the trooper she is currently dating after both sides made official complaints to police.
Deloran Payne’s wife of 17 years moved out of their Voorheesville home over a year ago, Payne said, and divorce proceedings are underway but not yet finalized. Payne made complaints that the trooper, Steven Rothwein, was harassing him while on duty.
Rothwein, who declined comment to The Enterprise, has denied the allegations. Payne also says that Rothwein has made frequent calls and visits to his estranged wife while on duty.
“Someone with his power should not be doing this stuff,” said Payne. “Also, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money.”
Payne went to the State Police station in New Scotland and told officials Rothwein had tailgated him in a police car on two different occasions in early January. “I told the cops I was petrified to drive through this village,” he said.
“The tailgating is unsubstantiated and the trooper completely denies it,” said Captain William Keeler, who said others reported a car being between the two. He added, “They live in the same small village.”
Payne and his wife became friends with Rothwein and his wife when Rothwein coached their sons in Catholic Youth Organization basketball at St. Matthew’s Church, Payne said. Both couples each have high school-aged sons and elementary-school-aged daughters. The families would see each other socially and went on a camping trip together and originally lived less than a mile apart, Payne said.
Payne has as the screensaver on his cell phone a picture of himself and his wife, arm in arm, in front of a big red heart at a Pocono resort where they had vacationed the year before she moved out of their house.
He reminisces over meeting her at Jimmy’s Little Italy eatery in Schoharie. “She’s my soul mate,” Payne said this week. “When she walked through that pizza joint, I knew I was going to be with her forever.”
This past Valentine’s Day, he brought his wife her favorite chocolate-covered raisins and wrote a poem for the card he purchased, he said.
This is how Captain Keeler describes the situation: “The trooper is dating the guy’s estranged wife. I’ve seen it happen before with estranged couples; one becomes obsessed in a single-minded way and focuses on breaking up the relationship and finding anything they can to make life miserable for those involved,” he said, referring to Payne.
Keeler said officials were investigating the complaints made by both parties with no special treatment to Rothwein. “We’re treating this the same as any other,” he said.
Payne also produced paperwork from a phone company, listing calls Rothwein made to his estranged wife that he said Rothwein made while on duty: On at least two occasions in December, Rothwein had spoken to Payne’s estranged wife for over 100 minutes while he was working a 12-hour shift; the records also showed multiple shorter calls to Payne’s estranged wife, up to a dozen, during a single shift.
Payne also accused the officer of stopping at his wife’s apartment while on duty and had noted seeing a patrol car in the driveway.
This week, Payne’s wife complained to the Albany Family Court of ongoing harassment and filed an order of protection against her husband.
Keeler said police do not know how Payne acquired the phone records and do not know if they were legally acquired. Payne claims the family had a shared account and he had rightful access to it. His wife has since closed the account, he said.
However, Keeler also said the internal affairs department is aware of the allegations of the trooper having a two-hour phone conversation while on duty and said, if the accusation proved true, that it was “improper.” Keeler said police were allowed to speak on their personal cell phones while on duty, up to a point, but said two hours was excessive.
This week, Rothwein made his own complaint against Payne after Payne allegedly left a threatening message on the officer’s cell phone, warning him to stay away from his children while spending time with his estranged wife. Payne said he and his wife had an oral agreement to keep his daughter away from Rothwein while she visited and he got angry when the three took a trip to go snow-tubing last week.
“The only thing I said was, stay away from my kids or we’ll have problems,” said Payne, stating it was not a threat although he conceded, “I said it nastily.”
Keeler said there were no legal grounds for the arrangement and that only an order from Family Court could put one into effect.
In response to Rothwein’s complaint, two uniformed State Police officers were sent to Payne’s home at around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday to tell Payne to stay away from Rothwein.
Asked why officers were sent to Payne’s Voorheesville home, Keeler responded, “This is what we do.”
Keeler said Rothwein chose not to press charges of aggravated harassment against Payne. “He’s not pursuing charges against Mr. Payne. He wanted it documented and Mr. Payne was advised not to do it again, which is our normal operating procedure,” said Keeler.
Keeler concluded, “In terms of estranged couples, we deal with cases like this all the time — one party just becomes obsessed with what one party is doing.” What makes this case unique, he said, is that one of the parties is a State Trooper.