The woman who claims to have been harassed by New Paltz town police officer Robert Sisco is speaking out about the experience. After posting some of the details on a social-media site on November 22, Jennica Cochrane agreed to an interview this past week.
Cochrane has filed a complaint against Sisco saying that four or five years ago the officer, while on duty, tried to initiate an exchange of phone numbers. What had prompted her decision, Cochrane said, was Sisco’s posting of a rap video that had made trans people in particular feel unsafe about this officer. Since the complaint was filed, Sisco finally obtained Cochrane’s number and has allegedly made overtures to resolve the issue. Cochrane felt these unwelcome, prompting the social-media post and her blocking on her phone of the officer’s personal cellphone number.
Cochrane recalls the initial encounter. “I was jogging on North Ohioville, and he tried to get my attention.” Sisco, driving a police vehicle, coasted alongside Cochrane, who said she tried to ignore the officer and kept jogging. Sisco “put on the lights” and triggered a staccato “woop-woop” with the vehicle’s siren.
“I stopped and made a ‘Really, dude?’ gesture,” she said. “He was handing his card out to me, and said he liked to jog on this road, too. I threw it back at him and said, Fuck off.”
“It was unprofessional, and out of line,” she said about Sisco’s behavior. “This is my road, I live here.”
What did Sisco really want?
Since then, Sisco’s name and face have never been far from Cochrane’s thoughts. When the officer was given public accolades for his seemingly sincere repentance of his rap-video behavior, Cochrane was reminded of that incident, and the memories brought anger.
Their encounter apparently didn’t have the same impact on Sisco. The officer pulled Cochrane over for speeding about a year later, and there didn’t seem to be any recognition in Sisco of the earlier incident. Cochrane remembered, “I was thinking, ‘What is it about me that you keep coming at me? How could you act like this didn’t happen? You must do this a lot.’ I wish I could see what he really wants.”
After Sisco’s rap video was circulated widely in June, Cochrane said that she regretted not having filed a complaint originally and decided to do so immediately. She was offended by his rap lyrics, which were variously characterized by critics as being part transphobic (for asserting that the only valid gender identities are those present at birth) and politically extreme (for opinining that Hillary Clinton should have been hanged for treason).
The officer made a public apology during the November 19 police commission meeting, after it was determined by an arbitrator — as is required in the present police contract — that the posting of the video while on duty was not grounds for termination. Instead, town officials signed a last-chance agreement with the officer that laid out appropriate behavior going forward.
Just three days after that apology, Cochrane received a call from Sisco, and hung up, after which the officer allegedly left a voicemail requesting a meeting. Cochrane believes that the only way Sisco could have obtained that number was from the complaint itself, but town officials claim that this could not be the case.
New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, after consulting with police chief Robert Lucchesi, Hs said that only the chief and lieutenant have access to such complaints, and that Sisco has not even been in the police station since the rap video became public.
A particularly stressful time
Cochrane works in a nursing home, which during this pandemic is particularly stressful, “It’s an awful job,” at least now when elderly residents are particularly prone to infection and death thanks to this coronavirus.
For her, being contacted by Sisco has only increased those stress levels. The entire situation is “very upsetting to me,” Cochrane said, She added that she now feels less safe around law-enforcement officers generally. “I want to know what he feels when he calls me to say he’s upset about what I was saying online. I want to know, if he could go back in time, ‘Do you remember when you hit on me?’ “
New Paltz deputy supervisor Dan Torres did reach out to Cochrane, and advised that a follow-up with lieutenant Scott Butler would be forthcoming. Cochrane has placed a call to the lieutenant as well, but has not yet received a call back. Butler had assured Cochrane, when the complaint was first filed, that it would be investigated.
Municipal officials are typically advised by their attorneys never to discuss personnel matters in public, and it’s not unusual for that advice to result in no response, rather than a courtesy call to advise that no comment will be provided. Bettez, who himself diligently returns messages from reporters, got confirmation from town attorney Matthew Ryan that termination was under this last-chance agreement the only penalty that can be imposed upon Sisco. A freedom-of-information request for a copy of that agreement is pending.
The entire incident has left Cochrane dismayed by the reactions of others. “Now people are questioning the memes I post, but [Sisco] can express freely while on the clock, and I can’t do my own thing on my own time.” She said she would be searching for an appropriate attorney, should it be necessary to sue the town over this incident.
Cochrane is resolved to see the matter through. “I don’t want anybody else to be put in my position,” she said. “I’m trying to weed out the bad apples.”