In the nearly two months since an Ulster County Sheriff’s Deputy shot and wounded an apparently unarmed man following a high speed chase. Law enforcement officials in two counties have steadfastly declined to identify the officer who fired the shots. But a document obtained by Kingston Times identifies the deputy as David Hughes a decorated 20 year veteran of department.
Back on April 15 Brandon M. Rifenburg, 20 of High Falls was shot twice in the chest at the conclusion of a wild high speed chase that led police from multiple agencies from Route 213 in Marbletown, through the City of Kingston and finally to Route 28 in Hurley. Cops say Rifenburg ignored orders to stop, ran roadblocks and continued to drive after his tires were shredded by spike strips. The chase ended, police said, after he tried to ram a police vehicle, lost control of his car and ran off the road. Police and prosecutors have not divulged details of the shooting including whether he was inside the car when he was shot or what prompted the deputy to open fire.
Hughes’ name is contained in an application submitted by Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright to County Court Judge Donald Williams on April 21,, six days after the shooting. In the application, which was approved by Williams, then filed with the Ulster County Clerk, Carnright asks that a special prosecutor be assigned to probe the circumstances of the shooting. Carnright cited “personal business dealings” with Hughes that he said could create “the appearance of impropriety” if his office continued to handle investigation. With Williams’ approval, the investigation was transferred to Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler (Carnright’s office continues to handle the case against shooting victim Brandon M. Rifenburg who faces multiple felony counts stemming from the chase). Like Carnright, Hoovler has, so far, declined to identify the officer who fired the shots.
The secrecy around the case has generated controversy and sparked discussion about the public’s right to know the identities of police officers involved in shootings. Carnright’s office and Hoovler’s both cited an ongoing investigation in denying Freedom of Information Act requests from media organizations. That silence is in contrast to previous incidents of police involved shootings, notably an April 20 case involving a sheriff’s deputy who shot an unarmed suspect following a high speed chase in the city of Kingston. That deputy, James Mullen, was identified by the Sheriff’s office one day after the incident. A grand jury later found that the shooting was justified.
Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum declined to discuss on the record why Hughes has not been identified by law enforcement officials. But, he said, he planned to develop a uniform policy to guide future officer involved shootings. Van Blarcum added that Hughes had not been suspended or placed on modified duty. Van Blarcum said that, from the department’s viewpoint it did not appear that the veteran deputy had violated protocol in the incident.
“We’re still looking into it departmentally,” said Van Blarcum. “But I don’t see anything bad there.”