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Monday, April 27, 2009

Cops Covered-Up Off-Duty's Drunken Mess

'He's gonna kill somebody here'
Dispatcher urged to get help during ride of DWI suspect, a detective

The Albany Times Union by BRENDAN J. LYONS - April 25, 2009

ALBANY, NY -- The off-duty police officer remained calm, but he described the situation to a dispatcher as desperate. An out-of-control driver, who is an Albany detective, appeared heavily intoxicated as his pick-up truck careened off snowbanks and slammed into parked cars, racing at speeds topping 70 mph as he wended across the city and into Bethlehem. ''He just slammed into a parked car and he was on the other side of the road. He's gonna kill somebody here in a minute,'' John Maloney, a Schenectady detective, told the Albany dispatcher, according to a copy of a 911 recording obtained exclusively by the Times Union. ''He almost hit a (inaudible) head on.'' Maloney did not know he was following a fellow cop. But the 911 call confirms Albany police were almost immediately aware the suspect in the Jan. 11 hit-and-run pursuit was one of their own.

The 911 recording also raises new questions about whether police in Albany and Bethlehem deliberately delayed or tried to prevent the arrest of Detective George McNally, who was later indicted on charges of DWI, reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. McNally, who had been drinking at an Albany Elks Lodge that night, where he is the exalted ruler, has pleaded not guilty. On Friday in Albany County Court before Judge Stephen W. Herrick, McNally rejected an offer by the district attorney's office to plead guilty to DWI in exchange for a sentence of no jail time and a $500 fine. The case is now headed for trial where a jury would likely hear the unsettling 911 call that lasts nearly 15 minutes. The recording confirms that police in Albany and Bethlehem failed to stop McNally's speeding truck even though the off-duty officer was relaying the license plate, vehicle description, physical description of the driver, and direction of travel. Maloney tailed the truck to a Hannaford store in Bethlehem. The last information Maloney relays to the dispatcher is ''he's getting back in ... here comes the cops right now. He's going to take off on them.'' Then the call goes dead. McNally was not taken into custody until nearly two hours later at his home in Bethlehem. A person familiar with the investigation said the marked police vehicle that arrived at the store was driven by Albany Sgt. Peter J. McKenna, who has been suspended pending an internal investigation of his actions that night.

Meanwhile, records turned over to the Times Union under a Freedom of Information Law request show that several police officers involved in the McNally incident, including McKenna, used personal cell phones rather than police radios to communicate with a supervisor, Lt. Michael Tremblay. The city denied an appeal by the newspaper to disclose the private cell phone information of the officers, or their identities. Tremblay was the highest ranking supervisor involved in the pursuit and went to McNally's home to arrest him. He was using a departmental cell phone that night and the city released his phone records but redacted many of the incoming and outgoing calls. The city's refusal to disclose the cell phone numbers was based on their assertion it could ''cause personal hardship to the officers or potentially endanger the life and safety of the officers.'' Still, the Times Union independently confirmed that at least five of the calls were made to or from a private cell phone used by McKenna. The newspaper previously reported McKenna drove his marked SUV into Bethlehem that night and allegedly told police there to back off. The dispatch records and McKenna's actions have raised questions about public statements by Bethlehem officials that their officers were unable to find the pickup truck. Bethlehem officers have real-time access to Albany's dispatch information and a Bethlehem officer used a mobile computer to run McNally's license plate before he sped into their town that night, according to a person briefed on the case.

Now, the 911 recording confirms the situation was described as highly dangerous as McNally, who was wobbly and disoriented, and nearly clipped several cars. ''He's out of the car now looking at damage to his car. We're stopped on New Scotland right at, looks like Hollywood,'' Maloney tells the dispatcher. ''He just fell into the snowbank, big time. He was on the other side of the road. He almost took me out head-on. ... He can hardly walk.'' Moments later, McNally stopped his truck a second time and climbed out, standing in the middle of the road. ''He's going to kill somebody in a minute here,'' Maloney tells the dispatcher. ''So he's highly intoxicated it appears?'' the dispatcher asks. ''Oh, yeah, big-time, he doesn't really know where he is at all,'' Maloney responds. "He went into a snowbank, he hit a car,'' the dispatcher can be heard whispering to someone in the background. The dispatcher assures Maloney help is on the way. ''The guy supposedly lives in Delmar,'' the dispatcher tells Maloney. ''You have some units close?'' Maloney asks, concern growing in his voice. ''... I'm just afraid he's going to clip somebody.'' ''They're on their way,'' the dispatcher responds. ''They're looking at the remarks whenever I put them in here.'' A police report indicates McNally had ''glassy eyes, slurred speech, unsteadiness and an odor of an alcoholic beverage.'' McNally and McKenna both remain suspended. Brendan J. Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at

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