Albany police union president alleges Tuffey knew of sticker system
The Albany Times Union by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST - April 28, 2009
ALBANY, NY- The city's police union president said he finds it "offensive" that Chief James Tuffey has sought to fire officers for lying to internal investigators but has not himself told lawmakers the whole truth about systems to shield select people from parking fines. "I think it's fair to say, clearly, by his own testimony, that he had knowledge of the system," Officer Christian Mesley testified Monday before the Common Council, which subpoenaed the 17-year veteran as part of its probe into the issuing of so-called no-fine tickets. Mesley, who has served as president of the Albany Police Officers Union since 2004, was referring to a system of decals distributed to police officers by the union as a signal to parking enforcement to issue summonses that carried no fines. His long-awaited appearance was the third round of testimony in the council's ongoing investigation but it was the first compelled by subpoena and marked by the delicate and sometimes confusing legal ballet that came with it.
The officer's attorney, Stephen Coffey, forcefully warned lawmakers numerous times to keep their questions to Mesley's official duties, which were largely unrelated parking enforcement, and away from his union activities, which he said were outside the scope of the subpoena. The ground rules led to several testy and sometimes dizzying exchanges with Coffey as council members sought to craft their questions in terms of what Mesley knew in his official capacity as a police officer. Tuffey, a retired detective and longtime union head, last month told lawmakers under oath that he began a decal system when he was president of the union but those stickers which were blue and yellow were meant only to broadcast union membership, not command special privileges. Tuffey also denied knowledge of a second generation of the decals which were red and blue, numbered and known as bull's-eyes that were developed after he left the department and were still in use until the Times Union disclosed them and abuses withing the system in November, nearly three years after Tuffey returned as chief.
Mesley reacted strongly to Tuffey's testimony last month, telling the Times Union that he believed the chief had been "less than truthful." Asked Monday night about that statement by Councilman Corey Ellis, Mesley noted the chief's story wavered from his initial outright denial. "From the very beginning that this story broke, the chief has denied any knowledge of the bulls-eye system, and then he came here and qualified that by not owning up to the fact that there was a second generation style of the bull's-eye system." Mesley said. "And as the union president," he continued, seeming to at least temporarily break the embargo on the discussion of union matters, "I find that offensive due to the fact that the chief is in charge and in control of discipline in the department and on various occasions has asked for the dismissal of my officers for lying while answering questions from internal affairs ... so I find that fact to be highly offensive that the leader of a police department is doing that."
Mesley also said that when he received his first two decals in late 1992 or early 1993, his understanding was that they were to be used specifically for parking around the downtown courthouses while on official duty. His recollection matches that of Commander Aaron Flanger, who joined the force at the same time as Mesley and who also testified before the council because he now oversees parking enforcement. Tuffey remained president of the union until 1994. If the decals were solely meant to denote union membership, as Tuffey testified, Mesley said he was never told that. Mesley also said he had "no direct knowledge" of the stickers being distributed to people other than members of the department. But he did explain why each officer got two one being for his or her spouse's car in case the officer needed to use it. Defenders of the system have argued it was a reasonable way to shield officers from fines when they were parking their private vehicles to testify in court on official business. But high-ranking city officials, including Tuffey and Mayor Jerry Jennings, have said the practice of issuing no-fine parking tickets to cars with the decals was never sanctioned by the city. A Times Union investigation revealed they were being used to afford unsanctioned parking courtesies. The council will meet again Wednesday on the matter.