New Paltz’s town board met in executive session last Wednesday to decide what to do about town police officer Robert Sisco, who posted a politically-charged rap online apparently recorded when he was on duty. Some have come out in support of the officer. More have loudly called for his termination, A few would like to see the members of the town board follow him out the door. The elected officials are now saying they plan on convening a community coalition to look at policing.
New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez called another special meeting for Monday, June 29. That second meeting lasted nearly two hours, with three minutes four seconds being available to the public. Supervisor Bettez indicated that Sisco was present during that executive session.
Upon emerging, council members unanimously passed the following resolution without discussion: “Be it resolved, that the board determines that formal disciplinary charges seeking a penalty up to and including termination will be preferred by the chief of police against Officer Sisco and that such disciplinary charges shall be in accordance with Article V, Title B of the Civil Service Law of the State of New York and the applicable terms of the collective bargaining agreement.” That collective bargaining agreement does not appear to be available on the town web site.
Sisco posted a rap video to the Instagram account for his business, Black Mamba Rifle Co., during which he is seen wearing his uniform, identifies himself as a police officer, and is apparently in a patrol vehicle. Over a minute and ten seconds he hits on a number of charged political topics including race relations and violence by police. The parts that sparked outrage were a declaration that only two genders were valid and the suggestion that Hillary Clinton ought to be hanged for treason.
Thursday’s special meeting was on a personnel matter, which was widely understood to be about Sisco, although board members aren’t allowed to say so in public. After about two and a half hours, that executive session was concluded without any action being taken. “We’re going to continue reviewing the records and see what our options are moving forward based on our attorney’s advice,” said Supervisor Bettez.
Member David Brownstein announced Thursday that the town board’s regular meeting of July 2 will have other police issues on the agenda. The transcript of the questions asked at the community town hall on policing “and our best effort of answering those questions” are expected to be ready at that time. Brownstein said that meeting will be presenting “our initial draft plans for convening a community coalition to explore police reformation and transformation.”
A letter on behalf of the Concerned Parents of New Paltz to the town board read by Edgar Rodriguez said that it was time for the members of the town board to resign because of their “historic failure to adequately address cases of racist violence committed by police that has laid bare a pattern of conduct that can clearly be identified as institutional racism.”
The group’s prime exhibit of institutional racism has been the Paul Echols’ case, in which an officer struck the already-injured Echols in the back of a patrol car while trying to get him inside the vehicle. The police commission found officer Robert Knoth had not used excessive force as defined in the department’s policies. Echols was later found not guilty of resisting arrest by a jury of his peers, and is now suing Knoth — since retired — personally for “excessive and unreasonable force against plaintiff …. causing the fracturing of plaintiff’s jaw and other injuries.” According to testimony at Echols’ trial, he was also struck in the jaw by another individual a few minutes prior to being arrested.
The town’s independent police commission was dissolved in 2013. The town board now serves in that role, which includes preparing the department’s budget and reviewing disciplinary actions. There has been a call to return to some kind of independent oversight.
The Concerned Parents of New Paltz has expressed a lack of confidence in board members on issues of race, and imagines creation of an independent oversight group being created “while we await your resignation decision.” A civilian review commission with members selected by and for various stakeholder groups in the community would be charged with developing a plan “to challenge, defund and reinvent all four occupying police forces in our town” by reallocating resources to crisis counselors and other situations where police are frequently asked to step in.
In an earlier version of the letter that was read during a virtual town hall on policing, Rodriguez had asserted that the town was named as a defendant in Echols’ federal lawsuit. His attorney, Michael Sussman, confirmed that this was not the case. In acknowledging the error, Rodriguez called it “a misunderstanding.”