March 18th thru March 24th in the year Two Thousand and Eighteen
Sunday March 24th, 20192016 shooting haunts credibility of Troy detective
TROY — Detective Sgt. Randall French took the stand this past week in a Rensselaer County Court animal abuse criminal trial to find his 2016 fatal shooting of a DWI suspect overshadows his credibility as a prosecution witness.
Since former Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel E. Abelove rushed a grand jury presentation within four days of French shooting Edson Thevenin during a DWI traffic stop on April 17, 2016, the nearly 16-year Troy Police Department veteran has seen his career impacted by the eight bullets he fired that morning.
French has been passed over twice for promotion to captain despite his ranking first on the civil service list. He also faces a multi-million-dollar federal lawsuit filed by Thevenin’s widow. And his motives in conducting investigations are open to cross-examination when he is a prosecution witness, as the animal cruelty case demonstrates.
It's a situation that could grow more intense now that French commands the city’s reorganized drug unit.
“It’s unfortunate that Randy is in this position because of politics,” said Officer Nick Laviano, president of the Troy Police Benevolent Association. He believes the former district attorney's handling of the Thevenin case was warped by an effort to forestall the state taking over the probe.
"Joel Abelove wanted to flex his muscles to Andrew Cuomo," Laviano said.
Laurie Shanks, a criminal defense attorney and Albany Law School professor emerita, said French will be haunted by the way Abelove handled the shooting for the rest of his time in law enforcement.
Abelove did a disservice to Thevenin's family and the citizens of Troy as well as French for not having the case thoroughly and properly examined, Shanks said.
“Abelove created a situation where there was no possibility (French) could be held responsible,” Shanks said. “There will always be a cloud over (French) to the end of his career.”
Abelove could not be reached for comment. In December 2017, the district attorney was indicted by a county grand jury for his handling of the shooting, but the case brought by the state attorney general was dismissed last June by a judge who said the state had exceeded its authority.
The investigation of Thevenin's death was complicated by the ongoing tug of war between Cuomo and county district attorneys over the governor's executive order empowering the attorney general to probe the deaths of unarmed civilians during encounters with police. It was in that context that Abelove quickly presented the Thevenin case to a county grand jury.
French was not asked to waive his immunity when he testified before the grand jury investigating his shooting of Thevenin. That alone meant he couldn’t be charged in the case.
Last week, it was French's far less consequential investigation of the fatal injuries to a small 13-year-old dog named Mya over Thanksgiving 2017 that opened him up to cross-examination by William Roberts, defense attorney for Gloria Carmona, the home health aide and mother of two who was charged in the case.
“This case was toxic because it was tainted by Randy, a toxic police officer,” Roberts told the jury of six men and six women in Rensselaer County Court.
Judge Jennifer Sober ruled Thursday that Roberts could question French about aspects of the federal civil lawsuit filed by Thevenin's widow as he attempted to impeach the detective’s credibility, especially on the statement he wrote describing his December 2017 interview of Carmona. Roberts also questioned him about aspects of the attorney general's report on his fatal shooting of Thevenin.
Assistant District Attorney Nick Dorando was able to stop part of Roberts' attempt to question French, but in his closing argument had to remind the jury that French was not on trial.
Mayor Patrick Madden has attacked the attorney general’s report on the shooting investigation as factually inaccurate, though he has never explained his reasons for taking that stance. Last week, a spokesman said the mayor had no comment due to the pending litigation in U.S. District Court in Albany. The city is a co-defendant with French in the lawsuit.
On Thursday, French testified he had not paid attention to either the federal lawsuit or the attorney general’s findings. When Roberts asked about testimony from three civilian witnesses in the shooting, French said he was not aware of their accounts.
“It is incredible that he is taking it lightly,” Shanks said. She thinks it's hard to believe that French would not have paid attention to the attorney general’s investigation, as it occurred at the time that he faced the possibility of being indicted in Thevenin’s death.
French testified that he felt he shouldn’t have been passed over for promotion. The PBA has sued the city over failing to promote French and two other sergeants. The city Civil Service Commission is expected to approve a new captain promotional list Tuesday. French, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate with a degree in applied mathematics, is expected to be at the top of the list again.
Roberts quizzed French on whether he “fabricated and disseminated false accounts” regarding the Thevenin shooting. French said he never did that.
Outside court after his testimony, French declined to comment on the case and his professional situation.
The only extensive remarks from French about the fatal shooting come in his deposition, quoted by the city of Troy and his attorneys in a Feb. 28 motion to dismiss the federal litigation.
In that document, French extensively describes the initial traffic stop of Thevenin, then the pursuit when Thevenin drove off. Once Thevenin was stopped again, French said he squeezed out of his patrol vehicle and his leg became pinned between his vehicle and Thevenin’s car. Thevenin’s vehicle was revving its engine and pinned him, according to French’s testimony.
“I was afraid I was going to die,” French testified about his reason for firing at Thevenin. French said he attempted to reload but couldn’t reach his reserve magazine because he was pinned. Other officers arriving at the scene testified they heard French yelling “stop” and that he was pinned.
The PBA's Laviano called him an "excellent officer." The PBA awarded French its Silver Shield award in 2018 for his actions in the Thevenin traffic stop.
French recently was given command of the Special Operations Section, as the reorganized drug unit is now called. French bid for the position under the PBA contract and was given the position based on seniority.
The drug unit was disbanded after its members conducted an illegal warrantless search in June 2017. Two detectives assigned to the unit pleaded guilty in the case. With French in command, a defense attorney will be able to question the truthfulness of the officers he commands, Shanks said.
On Friday, the jury acquitted Carmona of felony cruelty to animals and misdemeanor animal abuse. Two jurors, who declined to be identified, said they could not rely on the statement French took from Carmona. They also said the detective sergeant didn't conduct a thorough investigation, resulting in a lack of evidence.
"This is just the beginning of Randy French's problems in the courtroom," Roberts said. "When faced with a credibility issue, juries are going to have a hard time believing Randy French."
Saturday, March 23rd, 2019Former WWE wrestler back in Carbon jail
A WWE Hall of Fame wrestler is behind bars in Carbon County for violating parole on multiple DUI convictions.
Tamara Sytch, known as Sunny during her WWE career, pleaded guilty to three separate counts of DUI in Carbon County Court in 2016. She was sentenced to five years maximum, but got immediate parole because she sought rehab.
This week she was extradited from New Jersey for violating parole in one of her DUI arrests.
It is the second time she has been jailed here for violating parole. She served eight months in Carbon County Correctional Facility last year.
Sytch reportedly violated her parole when she was arrested for DUI in New Jersey on Feb. 26.
According to TMZ.com, Sytch was arrested after a traffic stop where an officer found her with an open container of alcohol. She was also driving with a suspended license.
She was extradited to Carbon County for violating terms of her probation from the three DUIs she pleaded guilty to in 2016.
According to an order from Carbon County Adult Probation, Sytch missed a scheduled drug test on Feb. 11. The terms of Sytch’s probation from her DUI arrests included zero tolerance for missed urine screens.
Adult probation said Sytch does not have a stable residence and failed to report her whereabouts.
Sytch pleaded guilty to three separate DUI charges in Carbon County Court in 2016.
Officially the judge in the case sentenced her to a maximum of five years in jail. However, she received credit for 95 days in rehab and got immediate parole.
The terms of her sentence also included $2,100 in fines, a two-and-a-half year license suspension, 125 hours of community service, zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use, and court fees.
The first arrest occurred May 30, 2015, on Route 443 in Mahoning Township.
Two days later, she was stopped by police for crossing the double line on Route 209, and officers found an open bottle of beer.
The third arrest occurred after a crash in Towamensing Township on June 20, 2015.
In February 2018 she violated her parole and served eight months in Carbon County Correctional Facility.
Friday, March 22nd, 2019Father arrested for DUI after three children call cops
WALLINGFORD, CT (WFSB) - A father was arrested for drunk driving on Saturday after his three children called the cops on him.
Police said they received a call just after 7:30 p.m. at the Pit Stop Gas Station on Woodhouse Avenue.
One of the children called 911 to report that her and her two younger siblings were dropped off on the side of the road by their father who was drunk.
When officers arrived, they found the children shivering, crying and scared.
The children told police their father, John Sweeney, had been drinking at a St. Patrick’s Day party.
The kids asked another person to drive them home, but Sweeney insisted on driving them.
According to police, the children said they asked him to pull over due to his drunk driving.
The children walked about one mile to the gas station where they called 911.
Officers found Sweeney on North Street where he was charged with three counts of risk of injury to a minor and DUI.
He was released on a $10,000 bond and will appear in court on March 29.
The children were taken into the custody of their mother.
Thursday, March 21st, 2019Family sues police for pursuing pot suspect with bulldozer, killing him
The victim's family said the state police had no business chasing him with a dangerous piece of machinery.
Pennsylvania State Police acted recklessly when troopers used a bulldozer to pursue a Grateful Dead fan caught growing marijuana on public land, killing him when he wound up under the machine's treads, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.
Greg Longenecker's family said state police had no business chasing him with a dangerous piece of machinery — especially over a few pot plants the 51-year-old was cultivating for personal use. His death last July, in a rural area about 75 miles (121 kilometers) outside of Philadelphia, also provoked outrage from a marijuana advocacy group.
"They killed a beautiful human being, a caring, loving man," Longenecker's uncle, Mike Carpenter, who's named as a plaintiff in the federal suit, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "He'll never be able to share his life with us, or us with him, again. For no reason. He wasn't hurting anyone."
State police declined comment. A prosecutor who investigated Longenecker's death concluded that troopers acted reasonably.
The chase developed as Longenecker — a short-order cook and avid vegetable gardener with a passion for the Dead — and his friend, David B. Light, tended 10 marijuana plants in a small clearing on state game lands near Reading, Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania Game Commission worker, operating a bulldozer in the area, spotted their car parked in a field where vehicles weren't allowed and called police.
Light surrendered, but Longenecker fled, disappearing into the thick vegetation.
State police began a lengthy search. A state police helicopter spotted Longenecker in the underbrush, and the game commission worker, with a trooper aboard, used the bulldozer to blaze a trail in pursuit. The bulldozer was traveling no more than 1 (1.6 kph) or 2 mph (3 kph), according to an official account.
How Longenecker got caught in the machine's treads is hotly disputed. Authorities concluded he was high on methamphetamine, crawled under the back of the bulldozer in an attempt to elude capture, and was crushed to death when it made a left turn.
Longenecker's friends and family call that explanation ludicrous.
"That morning, Gregory was not high or under the influence. He was normal," Light wrote in an affidavit obtained by the AP. "There is no way Gregory crawled underneath the back of the bulldozer. It is unthinkable and ridiculous that anyone would say he crawled underneath."
Light, 55, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges and was accepted into a program for first-time offenders. He declined comment to the AP.
Longenecker's family questioned why state police didn't simply get a warrant for Longenecker and arrest him later, given they knew his identity and that his crime was relatively minor.
An expert in police procedure agreed the state police overreacted.
"It's outlandish. This is the craziest thing I've heard in years," said Walter Signorelli, a lawyer and retired New York Police Department commander who has overseen investigations into police pursuits. "It seems like they were more concerned with the chase than the danger to themselves and the public and the guy they're chasing."
Berks County District Attorney John Adams — the prosecutor who determined that state police acted appropriately — pushed back against the criticism, saying Longenecker put himself in jeopardy by fleeing from the authorities.
"His behavior was despicable," Adams said. "They yelled to him, they asked him to surrender. He did not surrender."
Longenecker likely would have faced probation over his marijuana plants, Adams said.
He said Longenecker's family would have been just as angry had troopers abandoned the search, and it turned out that Longenecker was injured and in need of medical attention.
"He's in a pile of brush that is completely uninhabitable. Something could have happened to him. And if the state police would have picked up and left, then they would be pissed off: 'Why didn't the state police try to find him?' So they were damned if they did or damned if they didn't," he said.
But at least one state police official has evidently acknowledged the situation could have been handled differently.
Wednesday, March 20th, 2019>Dashcam video shows police stopping wrong-way driver on Route 315
Columbus police on Wednesday released dashcam video of officers stopping a woman driving a car the wrong way early Tuesday morning on Route 315 on the Northwest Side, averting a potential crash.
Deja Marie Moore, 26, of Worthington, was charged with operating a vehicle while impaired, Columbus police said.
The woman was spotted just after 1 a.m. driving the sedan north in the southbound lane of Route 315 near Henderson Road.
The dashcam video from a Columbus police freeway officer who used his vehicle and the median to help block her forward movement shows that there are cars that have pulled over to the side and the woman driving the sedan is swerving. She even can be seen talking on a cell phone.
The woman attempts to maneuver around the front block, but a Columbus police van then pulls next to her on the driver’s side to box her in.
A Columbus police officer then pulls the woman out of the front seat of her car and takes her into custody.
Tuesday, March 19th, 2019DUI Driver Crashes Into Flower Shop In Fairfield: Police
FAIRFIELD, CT — A Fairfield woman was arrested after police say she was operating under the influence when she crashed into a flower shop Sunday night in Fairfield. At about 6:45 p.m. on Jan.20, police responded to a report of a possibly intoxicated woman at Cumberland Farms on Post Road, according to Capt. Robert Kalamaras.
Kalamaras said that before patrols arrived in the area, the woman left the parking lot and crashed her vehicle into the building at Hansen’s Flower Shop, located at 1040 Post Road in Fairfield.
Katherine Kriewald, 39, of Fairfield, was arrested and charged with DUI, failure to maintain proper lane, and illegal storage of a narcotic after officers located oxycodone in her purse, according to Kalamaras. A drug recognition officer responded to evaluate Kriewald, according to Kalamaras.
Kriewald was released after posting a $100 cash bond and she is scheduled to appear in Bridgeport Superior Court on Feb. 4.
Monday, March 18th, 2019Woman charged in crash that killed Fort Bragg soldier
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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — A Fort Bragg soldier is dead and a Sanford woman has been charged with driving while impaired following a crash Sunday on Yadkin Road involving a motorcycle and a sedan, according to the Fayetteville Police Department and Fort Bragg officials.
Fort Bragg officials identified the operator of the motorcycle as Spc. Patrick A. McDill, 22. McDill died Sunday at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center from injuries he suffered in the crash.
He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Jasmyne D. Russell-Dicker, 24, of Sanford, has been charged with driving while impaired and unsafe movement causing injury to a motorcyclist, according to a news release. She was processed at the Cumberland County Detention Center and was released on a $5,000 unsecured bond.
The crash occurred about 3:11 a.m. on Yadkin Road near Horseshoe Road, police said. Russell-Dicker was driving a 2017 Toyota Corolla.
“Spc. McDill dedicated the last three years of his life as an airborne infantrymen,” said Col. Andrew O. Saslav, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team. “His tragic loss will be felt by his family, friends and the entire Devil Brigade. He will be missed.’’
McDill joined the Army in June 2015. He completed Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning, Ga.;, before transitioning to Fort Bragg in August 2016.
McDill’s awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and the NATO medal.
Police said the accident remains under investigation.
To reverse this trend and ensure that patients do not fall victim to driving under the influence, education and collaboration between patients and clinicians is necessary, the researchers say.