An exchange prior to a New Paltz Town Board meeting last month led one member to file charges of harassment against another this week, according to a court document. Dan Torres signed a complaint alleging threats to his person were made by fellow council member — and onetime running mate — deputy supervisor Jeff Logan. This represents a new level of tension between Torres and other Town Board members, with whom he has often been at odds in recent months.
The incident took place at the Community Center, just prior to a scheduled board meeting on March 26. Logan asked Torres a question privately, and the portion Torres recorded on his phone was later played for reporters. They had been speaking about alternate water sources to be used when the New York City aqueduct is shut down for repairs, and Logan wanted to know if Torres would back the proposed site on Plains Road, where Logan lives. Torres advised he had not yet made a decision. On the recording, Logan can be heard repeatedly uttering the same expletive, with other voices in the background. Then, in a barely-audible whisper, he says, “You little f—ing puke, I could end you so f—ing fast,” which is the same phrasing used in the filed complaint. Torres asks, “Was that a threat?”
Logan said that the context of the conversation is made clear in the complaint — a political disagreement. The facts of the matter have not been determined. “I could go right now to the court and file a complaint against you, and it’s nothing more than rumor,” he said. “Any complaint has to be put into context.” However, he did provide some hints as to what he thinks that context might be when he said, “Dan Torres has been on the board a year, and accomplished absolutely nothing. If he wants to make a complaint, that’s why we have courts.” He also said that the fact that the story is being covered by the press is “purely politically motivated.”
Torres initially said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter at this time, but after Logan was quoted in the Daily Freeman as saying, “At no time was it threatening,” he agreed to play the recording. Others who witnessed the incident include town supervisor Susan Zimet, highway superintendent Chris Marx and town clerk Rosanna Mazzaccari, but it’s impossible to know what any of them heard, as none of them returned calls for comment.
The situation has posed challenges for the local justice system at all levels. Since the dissolution of the separate Police Commission, Town Board members have served in that role themselves, so the town police determined that it would be a conflict of interest for them to take charge of the investigation. According to police chief Joseph Snyder, every scrap of information the town police received was transferred to the state police barracks in Highland. After taking Torres’ complaint, state troopers discovered that neither of the town’ justices wanted the case, either, so a request was put in to Albany to find a justice who would. Michael Kraiza, of the Marlborough Town Court, will come to New Paltz to handle the arraignment on April 21. The unusual arrangement resulted in personnel in the Marlborough court being completely unfamiliar with the case, and staff at the New Paltz court initially unsure if they were permitted to release documents, since they are not handling the matter.
According to Bryan Schneider, a local attorney who handles criminal cases, the local justices recusing themselves isn’t surprising, even though the charges are relatively minor. “Harassment second degree is only a violation,” Schneider said, and only misdemeanors and felonies are defined as crimes in the law. For this particular violation, penalties range up as much to 15 days in Ulster County Jail, although he called that outcome “highly unlikely,” with a fine or even an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal among the alternatives. Nevertheless, “It’s not at all unusual for local justices to recuse themselves if they know the parties,” and, “having a justice come in to handle the arraignment simply means they are trying to use the most convenient way.”
When he does appear in court, Logan’s attorney will probably be paid for by the town, because he is an officer, and he was at the Community Center for official business. Ironically, the meeting he was there for had to be canceled, because he left after the confrontation and there weren’t sufficient board members present for a quorum. Kevin Barry was sick, and no one has been appointed to replace Jean Gallucci since her resignation.
Torres has had other, sometimes heated, disagreements with other board members, and has been taken to task during board meetings. He was publicly chastised for his opposition to siting a sewer treatment plant next to the high school, and Zimet has stated publicly that she does not share all documents with him that other board members receive for review. He has been accused by his fellow board members of breaking confidentiality for sharing information about the sewer plant with members of the School Board.
The Town Board has since met without incident. “I’m still doing the business of the town,” Logan said.