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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Prostitution Inquiry Is Latest Scandal for State Police

Prostitution Inquiry Is Latest Scandal for State Police
The New York Times by Danny Hakim and Thomas Kaplan  -  April 27, 2012

The State Police is an agency that is no stranger to scandal. Its revelation this week that it had suspended three troopers amid a prostitution investigation produced the most recent suggestion of tarnish. “It’s very disheartening for the rank and file to go through that, especially since the last couple years we have been splashed across the news pages quite a bit,” Thomas H. Mungeer, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers, said. In the most recent case, Trooper Titus Taggart, an 18-year veteran assigned to Buffalo, is at the center of an internal investigation and has been suspended without pay. He is “alleged to have organized parties that may have involved the promotion of prostitution, while off-duty,” the agency said in a statement. Two troopers from the Rochester area, Jeremy C. Smith, 34, and Michael L. Petritz, 33, were also suspended without pay for alleged misconduct, but were not accused of being involved in organizing the parties. People with knowledge of the investigation, who insisted on anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said that Trooper Taggart, 41, moonlighted as a party promoter and that the participants in his parties included exotic dancers from Canada, some of whom may have engaged in prostitution. The State Police, prompted by a tip, had been investigating Trooper Taggart since December. The Times Union of Albany, which first reported the suspensions, posted a number of photos from Mr. Taggart’s Facebook page on its Web site, including a picture of him posing out of uniform with a large bottle of expensive liquor. State Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, an Erie County Republican who is a former county sheriff and State Police captain, said: “It’s certainly disappointing that the negative actions of an individual adversely affect an entire agency — one that is among the most professional in the nation. But to the State Police’s credit, they’re not avoiding an investigation; they’re fully engaged.” Trooper Taggart could not be reached for comment. His father, Art Taggart, was once a colonel in the State Police and a top aide to former Superintendent Thomas A. Constantine. “The father is a real decent, very religious guy, very dignified man. He’s got to be crushed,” Mr. Constantine said, adding that he did not know Trooper Taggart. He said the latest case was markedly different from others that produced scandals at the agency. “This isn’t systemic behavior at a very high level — it’s troopers with very limited policy responsibility,” he said. “It’s individual wrongdoing.”

Most of the other recent State Police scandals have revolved around the leadership and its intersection with the governor’s office, which has direct control of the agency. During the administration of Gov. George E. Pataki, a top commander, Daniel Wiese, had troopers performing unusual assignments, including investigating a break-in at Mr. Pataki’s campaign headquarters and guarding the baseball star Darryl Strawberry when he was hospitalized, according to a report prepared by Andrew M. Cuomo, who was then attorney general and is now the governor. Mr. Wiese left the State Police to join the state Power Authority, but kept his shield and gun and maintained considerable sway over the agency. During the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a scandal erupted when the State Police prepared documents detailing the travels of the governor’s political rival, Joseph L. Bruno, who was then the State Senate majority leader. And, after news broke that Mr. Spitzer had patronized prostitutes, questions were also raised about what his security detail had known of his behavior. Shortly after Gov. David A. Paterson took office in 2008, he claimed there was a rogue political unit within the State Police, and asked Mr. Cuomo to investigate. But Mr. Paterson’s administration became embroiled in its own scandal after his State Police security detail contacted a woman who reported that one of the governor’s senior advisers had assaulted her. The woman, Sherr-una Booker, said at a court proceeding that she felt harassed. After Mr. Cuomo became governor, he brought in a new superintendent from outside the agency, Joseph A. D’Amico, who had been his chief investigator in the attorney general’s office and a deputy chief in the New York City Police Department. Senator Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat and a former New York City police officer, gave Mr. D’Amico high marks. “I think he has a zero tolerance level for something like this,” Mr. Adams said. “Sometimes you hear someone say they’re conducting an investigation and it goes nowhere, but you’re not going to hear that from him.” But Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner, a Democrat from Manhattan, said he believed that the State Police needed more independent oversight. He has introduced legislation that would set up a civilian complaint review board to oversee all police and peace officers who work for the state, including troopers. “Every time a police force is unaccountable to a third independent party,” he said, “it’s a recipe for corruption.”

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