Editor’s note: This report contains vulgar language. Reader discretion is advised. Updated with Corporation Counsel Andy Zweben’s comments.
A West Hurley man said Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo berated and tried to intimidate him last month in what he described as a “road rage” incident on a city street.
John Bridges, 51, also believes a police report on the altercation significantly misrepresented his side of the story, omitting the fact that he had called 911 during the incident, and downplayed his description of the mayor’s behavior.
The police blotter notation of the April 17 incident, prepared by an Officer Van Etten, claims that Gallo called police to report that a man had just run a stop sign and nearly caused an accident. Gallo reported that when he pulled alongside to warn the driver to be more careful, he appeared to be speaking on a cell phone and in French. After Gallo remonstrated to him for running the stop sign, the driver told him something, according to the report, “very rude and profane.”
The report goes on to describe Bridges arrival at KPD headquarters 30 minutes after Gallo’s call. Bridges, the report stated, told cops that Gallo been “out of line in yelling at him and approaching his car so closely.” The report stated that Bridges asked if he was under arrest and was told that Gallo was “not looking to press charges but was in fact looking out for the safety of the citizens he serves.”
But Bridges, an artist and business owner, tells a much different story, one in which Gallo repeatedly invoked his role as mayor and his association with the Kingston Police Department in a manner that left it unclear whether he was acting in an official capacity.
Bridges said that he was returning home from New Paltz a little before 6 p.m. on the evening of April 17 when he approached the five-way intersection from Boulevard. Familiar with the notoriously confusing intersection, Bridges said that he came to a full stop and signaled a turn before angling his car onto Wall Street. Moments later at a stop sign, Bridges said, a silver car approached at a high rate of speed and on the left side of his vehicle on the one-way street. The man behind the wheel, Bridges said, began yelling, accusing him of running a stop sign.
“I had no idea who this person was,” said Bridges. “I just thought it was some crank.”
In an attempt to defuse the situation, Bridges said, he turned to the driver raised his arms in a “classic Gallic shrug” and said, in French, “I do not understand.” When the driver continued his harangue, Bridges said, he dropped the French and told Gallo in English, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself,” before making a turn onto Fair Street. As he approached an intersection, Bridges said, Gallo’s car again approached at a high rate of speed, six or eight inches from his rear bumper. Bridges said Gallo leapt from the car and walked swiftly to Bridges’ driver’s-side window, shouting “You picked the wrong guy to tell to go fuck himself!” Bridges said Gallo then went on to say that he was an attorney, the mayor of Kingston and close with the Kingston Police Department. Gallo added that, in cursing him, Bridges had committed an illegal act. (Gallo’s alleged remarks occurred one day after he was caught on tape unleashing a profanity-laced tirade on a city employee).
“His demeanor was belligerent,” said Bridges. “He was clearly trying to physically and verbally intimidate me.”
As Gallo continued to berate him, Bridges said he spotted an Ulster County Sheriff’s Office SUV approaching the scene. Bridges said that he waved to the cop and may have tapped his horn to get the cop’s attention. When the police vehicle slowed to a crawl alongside Gallo and Bridges, Gallo, said Bridges, turned to the deputy, again invoked his ties to the KPD and waved him on with a hand gesture. The deputy, Bridges said, looked at Gallo, looked at Bridges, then drove away. At that point, Bridges said, he reached for his cell phone to call 911, only to have Gallo admonish him that he was breaking the law by using the phone while behind the wheel. Bridges said that he then drove about 20 feet up Fair Street, parked at the curb and made the call. Gallo, meanwhile, returned to his car and apparently made his own call to police (police records indicate that Gallo called in his report at 6:01 p.m. Bridges said his cell phone shows the 911 call made at 6:02. While he was on the phone with police, Bridges said, Gallo drove off.
Bridges said he told the 911 dispatcher, “I’m totally getting road-raged by this guy who says he’s the mayor.” The dispatcher then routed him to KPD dispatch where an officer told him that no units were available in his area and that if he wanted to make a report, he would have to come down to the stationhouse on Garraghan Drive.
When he arrived, Bridges said he was met by a gray-haired officer who advised him, “I’ve got seven months to retirement, I don’t take sides.” When Bridges reported that a man claiming to be the mayor of Kingston had “road-raged” him, the officer went into another room and returned with a document which Bridges now believes was based on Gallo’s own call to police. The cop, Bridges said, chided him for “bad manners” in cursing Gallo but added, “The mayor just wants to drop it, he figures you were just having a bad day.
“[The officer] gave me the distinct impression that I had somehow, due to the mayor’s mercy, avoided arrest, either for a moving violation or for inviting him to go fuck himself,” Bridges said.
Bridges said he was initially reluctant to discuss the incident in the press. When told by an Ulster Publishing employee who also works with him that a reporter wanted to discuss the incident, Bridges initially declined. It was not until he read an article in another newspaper, one based on the official KPD report, that he contacted the Kingston Times.
“When I saw that article full of capital-L lies, my hand was forced,” said Bridges. “I had to set the record straight.”
Among the inconsistencies, Bridges noted, were his age (51, not 61) and key details of the encounter. The report makes no mention of the fact that Bridges called 911 almost simultaneously with Gallo. Nor does it note that Gallo pursued his car twice, once on Wall Street and once on Fair. It makes no mention of Bridges’ report of Gallo’s alleged traffic infractions (pulling alongside him on a one-way street, driving up to his vehicle at high speed) The report refers to Gallo as the “complainant” while Bridges, in one reference, is “the offending operator.” Bridges said that he was also troubled by the fact that, while his own home address is included in the report, Gallo’s address is entered as “Kingston City Hall” and his office number is listed.
“Where is my complaint of a road-rage incident?” said Bridges. “It’s not there.”
Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti said he had been unaware of the incident, which was entered as a routine blotter notation, until he began fielding inquiries about it from the press last week. Tinti added that he would look into Bridges allegations that the report was inaccurate, provided Bridges contacts him directly.
Bridges said the entire encounter left him wondering if the mayor had, or thought he had, the power to make traffic stops and detain citizens. Bridges added that he would have readily complied had Gallo identified himself as a cop, but felt no such duty to defer to a random stranger claiming to be mayor of Kingston but “acting like a crazy person.”
“Even Barney Fife had a uniform, a badge and some kind of training,” said Bridges. “If [Gallo] wants to do this kind of thing he should get a dome light for his car and get someone to make a little badge for him.”
Gallo did not return a call seeking comment as of 3 p.m. Monday. The city’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Andy Zweben, called a Kingston Times reporter just before 5 p.m. on Monday to argue that the newspaper would be “irresponsible” to report Bridges’ account of the events. Zweben called the police blotter report of the incident the only official – and thus the only valid – record of the encounter. He added that neither Bridges nor Gallo had attempted to file an on-the-record complaint over their allegations. He further stated that since the mayor was unlikely to have confronted Bridges for no reason, Bridges’ contention that he did not run the stop sign was “incredible.”