County legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky apologized today for her behavior during a traffic stop in May. A video of the stop was released Tuesday, Oct. 24 by the Town of Ulster Town Board following several FOIL requests.
“The video released earlier this week of my Town of Ulster traffic stop captured a tough moment for me,” stated Berky. “Like so many working families, I too face tough times and stressful situations. As a professional, a public servant and a mother, I know my interaction with Police Officer Gary Short was unacceptable. I want to apologize to Officer Short and thank him for his patience and professionalism with me during a very difficult time.”
“This has been a humbling experience for me. I hope to use it to grow and learn how to better represent the diverse working families who reside in the great the city of Kingston.”
The dashcam recording of the 26-minute traffic stop was released over the objection of Berky’s lawyers, who argued that it would compromise her ability to receive a fair trial for the speeding ticket.
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.” He then returns to his patrol car and the video ends.
Berky, a Democrat, represents the city of Kingston in the county legislature. She is up for reelection Nov. 7
A joint statement of support for Berky was also released today by Joseph Donaldson, chairman of the Kingston Democratic Committee; Phil Leber, regional political director of the Working Families Party; Callie Jayne, lead organizer of Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley; and Hector Rodriguez, Democratic leader of the Ulster County Legislature.
“Jennifer has been a dedicated public servant for decades and an important progressive voice on the Ulster County Legislature. We stand united in supporting her re-election as the legislator of District 7. We know she is a knowledgeable city planner, environmental advocate, and steadfast champion of human rights– her many strengths serve her well in her her position as a legislator, including her ability to reflect and learn from her experiences…We would like to thank Officer Short for his professionalism and patience in a difficult situation.”