Schenectady officials looking to fire charged officer
SCHENECTADY City officials plan to fire Officer John Lewis — just as soon as they find him.
“They can’t serve him with the last seven infractions because they can’t find where he lives,” Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said Friday afternoon.
Lewis was charged twice last year after incidents stemming from a bitter divorce. Then, after the split was final, he was charged in November with threatening to kill her and any man he found with her.
On Dec. 27, he was also charged with drunken driving. Two weeks later, he was charged with criminal mischief for allegedly tearing up his mother’s house while intoxicated.
According to Lewis’ attorney, the officer was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam a day after the December arrest.
St. Mary’s has an inpatient alcohol rehabilitation center. Visitors are only allowed in for two hours a week, on Sundays, and apparently the city’s process servers have not gotten access.
But Lewis is expected to leave St. Mary’s soon — his attorney had said that Lewis would leave by the end of last week — and then servers will be able to hand him his court documents. Van Norden expects to immediately schedule a police disciplinary hearing.
“Lewis will be in short order, in a matter of weeks,” Van Norden said.
At that hearing, at which Van Norden will serve as prosecutor and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett will be judge, the city will ask for Lewis’ termination.
“Our goal is to remove him from his position,” Van Norden said. “Separate him from the department, period.”
The city has tried to fire Lewis before. In 1998, Lewis used a racial slur to describe a black police employee, and the city quickly terminated him. But Lewis took the case to a state arbitrator, who ruled that Lewis must be reinstated because the city had been “unduly harsh.”
Van Norden said the incident was not the first infraction for Lewis.
“There were a lot of disciplines that the arbitrator chose to ignore,” Van Norden said, adding that those would be brought up in his case against Lewis.
“It’s not just the recent incidents, although they are egregious,” Van Norden said. “We will track the entire history of Officer Lewis.”
If the hearing takes place, it will be the first such event since Bennett took disciplinary authority from the state arbitrators last year. The hearing is supposed to be public, according to the city charter.
But Van Norden said he will likely keep the hearing private, since the police union has already sued the city regarding Bennett’s authority to discipline officers. The union wants arbitrators to make final disciplinary decisions and may file another lawsuit if the hearing is public.
“My recommendation is probably going to be since we don’t have a decision from [the state Public Employment Relations Board on the union lawsuit] and my job is to protect the taxpayers, we should close them,” Van Norden said. “But I haven’t made a final decision.”
He added that anyone could sue to force him to open the hearing.
“Believe me, you wouldn’t have me as an adversary,” he said, adding that he would announce his decision in advance so interested parties could sue for access if they wished.
In the meantime, Van Norden is finishing his defense of Bennett’s disciplinary authority, which will be submitted to PERB by Tuesday.
“What we’re filing is that publicly accountable local officials have the responsibility to make that [disciplinary] decision,” Van Norden said. “The point we are trying to make is the people making that decision [should be] the people who are answerable to the community.”