Whether in Mount Morris, NY or NYC: in a conflict with power on the line, the police are absolutely shameless. They know where their bread is buttered. They know that as a group they are politically unstoppable. They wield this clout for increasingly trivial and transparently self-serving reasons. And even when any moron can see that they are in the wrong.
One back story to the Sephora Davis matter we have been discussing (beginning here, with many follow up posts over the next month) is the deep and entrenched corruption of the police in the relevant area, and particularly Mount Morris, NY – where Sephora was raped at knife point by a police informant, and where the subsequent criminal charges against her were developed before they were filed up the road in Geneseo.
Where to begin? The Mount Morris Police Department has been notorious ever since I started practicing law in 1989. Every criminal defense lawyer in the region seemed to know about them, including everyone way up in Rochester, some 30-40 miles away.
As it happened, certain things about that police department were coming to a head in that squalid little backwater right at the same time all this Sephora Davis stuff was going on. The details are a bit murky for me, and remarkably there is almost nothing online about it. It received some, but not a lot of news coverage. The only thing I can find now about it is the remnants of an obscure article here.
Briefly, though, the department had a chief that was implicated in all kinds of ill defined misconduct in 2004. It’s ill-defined because everything is kept secret by the officials. The Village Board meets in what is called “executive session” to consider such issues. The police department insists – and they have guns.
There was a courageous member of the Village Board named Jon LaDelfa who had had enough and started making noise about the department around this time. In response the police, who as a group have a very effective rumor mill, started smearing Mr. LaDelfa – a long time respectable accountant with an office in the village – behind the scenes as a “drug dealer”.
In late 2004 the then-chief, whose name escapes me at the moment, resigned in a deal made between him, the village board and representatives of the police union, in which it was agreed that everything about the episode would remain secret. (Update: after a lot of searching I did find one more article here. The Chief’s name was Sherman Yates.)
An interim chief was appointed from within the department and within a few weeks he, too, was embroiled in some kind of secret scandal. So he was replaced by yet another interim chief named Rick Albanese.
Albanese managed to make it to the next year, early 2006, before he was also implicated in some “massage parlor” scandal – in a different county, of course. If it had occurred in Livingston County it would have been hushed up and buried. In any case, the District Attorney’s office wound up bringing some relatively inconsequential charges against Albanese relating to missing firearms.
Albanese, not to be out-shamelessed by anyone, sued to get his job back!
While some other
scumbag officer then took over, Mr. LaDelfa managed to get the Village Board to hold a referendum about abolishing the department. I mean seriously, three chiefs having to resign amid scandal in less than 18 months would seem to make that a no-brainer. This department was by that time a complete embarrassment to anything resembling a legitimate police force, so you might think good riddance. You might think that other police departments would be glad to be rid of the stain upon their honor.
But that’s not how it goes. The neighboring departments, the Livingston County Sheriffs, the entire law enforcement establishment of the area brought their political clout , their money and their influence furiously to bear upon the referendum. Because of the secrecy agreements with the police and their union representatives, the only issues that village board members were allowed to discuss pertained to the fiscal impact of the police department. The scandals were not allowed to be discussed by the officials publicly.
The referendum was then overwhelmingly defeated in the summer of 2006.
The department then got a new chief, one Gary Benedict, who has connections to the FBI. No one (other than the chiefs) in the department was disciplined or charged, at least not so’s anyone knows, since the whole thing is under a blanket of secrecy.
Yet the SCOTUS has at least toyed with the idea that corrupt police departments are a thing of the past as a result of the “new professionalism” in law enforcement.
It may be a complete disconnect from reality. But for a Supreme Court Justice, it certainly is convenient.
Update: Well, after tracking down the name of former police chief Sherman Yates I came across this hilarious article detailing the many rogue officers who find their way from police departments in Greece, Palmyra and – of course – Mount Morris, and then back again. These are probably the three departments at the top of the “corruption” list in the area.
The subject of the article, an officer named John Vicaretti, was dismissed from the nearby Fairport police department, landed part time in Mount Morris (of course), and then went on to Palmyra, to join the same department that now employs the disgraced former Mount Morris chief Sherman Yates.
The article talks about second chances, and I’m a believer in second chances. But the victims of these officers usually don’t get one.