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Monday, April 12, 2010

Fired cop called 'horrible investment'

Fired cop called 'horrible investment'
Schenectady terminates police officer who's been arrested multiple times
The Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson - April 12, 2010

SCHENECTADY, NY -- Officer John Lewis' blemished 16-year career with the Schenectady Police Department, which include multiple arrests for drunken driving and domestic incidents, is over. Mayor Brian U. Stratton announced his decision Monday to accept an independent hearing officer's recommendation to terminate Lewis, who remains behind bars on unpaid leave. He has not been on active duty since March 2008. This marks the second time in 12 years that Lewis has been fired from the police department. Stratton said that despite his many arrests, Lewis, 40, has remained unrepentant. "Perhaps most unforgiving, he has never expressed even the slightest remorse for his actions or made any effort to accept personal responsibility for his conduct," the mayor said during an afternoon news conference in the City Hall rotunda. Stratton said he concluded after reading the report that Lewis "had clearly placed his own interests above those of the public he swore to protect and serve," and that the officer had "time and again acted with complete and utter disregard for the law and for the authority of his superior officers." The hearing officer, Jeffrey Selchick, issued the 85-page report last week. The disciplinary hearings focused on the five times Lewis was arrested from April 2008 to January 2009 on charges of harassment and violation of protective orders for his former wife, insubordination during an alcohol-related driving incident, another alcohol-related incident involving property damage and a domestic incident at his mother's Schenectady home. Lewis' attorney, James Tuttle of Latham, did not immediately return a call Monday seeking comment.

Stratton also bemoaned a ruling in July by Acting State Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer to close police disciplinary hearings to the public. Under that longstanding system, a hearing officer selected by the city makes recommendations, and if the officer appeals the case goes to an independent arbitrator. The city has been pushing for Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett to preside over disciplinary hearings. The state Public Employment Relations Board also is expected to weigh in on the issue. Bennett and Police Chief Mark Chaires joined Stratton for the news conference. Bennett said Lewis should never be able to wear a police uniform again. "It's not appropriate for John Lewis to continue in law enforcement anywhere," he said. Like Stratton, he mentioned the money and time spent getting rid of Lewis. "None of us is more frustrated with the expense and delay than those of us with the management of the city," Bennett said, adding Lewis' fate "is a profound statement" that officers have to adhere to high standards that police brass expect both on and off the job. Chaires described Lewis as a bad hire who gives the 150-member department a black eye. "John Lewis was an absolutely horrible investment of taxpayer money, he said. "I could not agree with the decision more strongly; it's the right decision."

Lewis has been suspended without pay since late last year. He has 30 days to appeal the mayor's decision, which would then put it into the hands of an arbitrator, according to L. John Van Norden, the city's corporation counsel. This is not the first time Lewis was fired from the force. He previously used the arbitration process to successfully win back his job after being fired in 1998 for using a racial slur at the police station. More recently, he was acquitted in February of drunken-driving charges in Schenectady. In January, prosecutors dropped a contempt charge against Lewis stemming from his alleged violation of an order barring him from contact with his ex-wife, Alison Lewis. He suffered a stab wound in December during a visit with a girlfriend in Massachusetts. That same month, he pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment charging him with eavesdropping, stalking, aggravated harassment, computer trespass, computer tampering and tampering with a witness. In that case, Lewis is accused of using a former girlfriend's computer to hack into his ex-wife's e-mail accounts. Lewis also is facing charges stemming from a January 2009 fight with his brother, also a police officer, before damaging their mother's home. In March 2008, a City Court Judge acquitted him of harassment. Prosecutors had argued he fought with his ex-wife over custody of their son. Lewis filed a notice of claim contending the city conspired with his ex-wife to get him fired. Reach Nelson at 454-5347 or at

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