The long-suppressed videotape detailing with what one police officer called “a routine traffic stop” four months ago finally saw the light of public scrutiny Tuesday night. The tape was from a police patrol car dash cam which recorded the exchange between county legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky and officer Gary Short in the Town of Ulster shortly before 7 p.m. in the Aldi’s parking lot on May 24.
Berky’s lawyers sought to suppress the dash cam on the grounds that it would compromise her chances for a fair trial. The town board, acting on the advice of the state’s Freedom of Information office and town attorney Jason Kovacs, voted 4-0 Tuesday night to release the tape. Councilman Joel Brink was absent.
Town supervisor Jim Quigley had ruled that only those who had FOILed the dash cam would receive copies. Berky requested a copy, but was not in attendance during the 30-minute special town-board meeting. Recipients of the tape are free to distribute it as they choose.
Berky was due in town court on June 14, but did not appear and did not contact the court. She did not appear for hearings in July or August. Her attorneys represented her at town board meetings on October 16 and 23. Berky has a trial date in town court, if she so chooses, for November 20.
Joe O’Connor, Berky’s lawyer at the special session, told the town board that releasing the video might expose the town to “hundreds of requests” for such videos at an expense (with police officers appearing in court) of “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
O’Connor said he would discuss with his client whether she wants to appeal the town’s decision.
The tape shows Short approaching Berky’s Prius in the Aldi’s parking lot after following her for about a quarter-mile from the intersection of Ulster Avenue and Morton Boulevard onto Route 9W. On audio she is heard asking the officer why she was being stopped. He tells her it’s for speeding, 43 miles per hour in 30-miles-per-hour zone.
Berky told him she never speeds and was driving with traffic. She said she was headed home to feed her young son and had a job interview in downtown Kingston. Sounding increasingly agitated, she said she could not afford a traffic ticket as it will increase her cost of insurance. She says she was “broke.”
Short went back to his patrol car to write a ticket. Berky stepped out of her car, apparently gasping for air and bent over double. Short returned and inquired about her health. She said she was having “a panic attack.” Short asked whether she wanted medical assistance. She did not reply, but seemed to be breathing better.
Short returned and offered to write a ticket for failure to wear a seatbelt, a much lesser offense than speeding. Berky told him she always wears her seatbelt and refused the offer. Short then wrote the speeding ticket.
At about halfway through the 26-minute incident, Ulster officer Kevin Woltman appeared to inquire as to Short’s status. The officers chatted briefly and he leaves. Woltman is the nephew of Brian Woltman, Berky’s Republican opponent in the November 7 election.
As Short issued her the speeding ticket, Berky was heard to say, “I don’t trust you. I don’t feel safe here. Tell me what my rights are. I didn’t understand.”
“I’ve explained everything to you,” Short replied, his voice reflecting exasperation. “I’m not going to argue with you any longer.”
Berky, in private, has claimed she was harassed by the officer, but has not filed a formal complaint. He lawyers did not raise that issue.
Her attorneys did cite cited unspecified “politics” by the 4-1 Republican town board against Berky, a Democrat.
Rocco Secreto, the board’s lone Democrat, voted with majority Republicans Tuesday night. “Politics had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Town police chief Kyle Berardi defended his officers against allegations of politics.
“For one thing, my people don’t pay a lot of attention to politics,” he said. “I doubt if he knew who she was, or cared if he did. That said, if it was politics, it would have been dealt with. That’s not the kind of thing we allow in this department.”
Berky defeated Woltman 352-172 in a Democratic primary in 2015. She polled 1330 votes without opposition in the general election. Woltman, a purchasing agent at city hall, is now an enrolled Republican, according to the board of elections. Berky, an urban planner and former county deputy planner, owns a consulting business.
Edited for time and relevance. Full video here.