New Paltz town council members, acting in their capacity as police commissioners, have agreed to move ahead with trying to terminate officer Robert Sisco from the police force at their January 21 meeting. The circumstances surrounding that decision are partially hidden behind the curtain of executive session, but what’s known publicly has led to one town resident claiming that there’s a racial bias in how officers are disciplined.
Sisco was suspended without pay last year, following an investigation into a rap video the officer recorded while in uniform, which included stanzas about a number of politically charged topics, among them one that rejected the idea that an individual’s gender is not biologically determined. According to the notice of discipline issued in July of last year, Sisco was on duty and in a town police vehicle at the time. Pursuant to the police contract now in force, elected leaders must defer to an independent arbitrator when they want to fire an officer, and in this case the arbitrator instead asked Sisco to sign a “last chance” agreement to remain employed. Under those terms, any violation could result in termination without any of the intervening disciplinary steps laid out in the contract, but it’s still the arbitrator’s call.
Supervisor Neil Bettez confirmed after the meeting that it is believed that Sisco violated the agreement with the content of a number of posts to the instagram account original_official_black_mamba, which is connected to the Black Mamba Rifle Co.
“I would say that with officer Sisco’s recent postings on social media, he has violated the last chance agreement which states that if he engages in misconduct that is the same as or similar to the misconduct alleged in the notice of discipline, the town may terminate his employment by issuing a notice of discipline without following the procedures specified in collective bargaining agreement,” Bettez explained when asked for clarification Saturday, “and although the termination will be appealable directly to the same hearing officer appointed to adjudicate the terms of last chance agreement, he will have the power to determine whether Sisco engaged in the same or similar conduct as in the July 2020 charges, and if he finds officer Sisco guilty of the new charges, he must uphold the termination of employment.”
A review of the public posts on the account Saturday show that no new content was added from October until January 2, when Sisco began a series of live broadcasts which were saved as posts. Among long stretches of activities such as driving while listening to music and lifting weights, Sisco also shares personal details, opinions about law enforcement and assertions that a documentary dealing in some way with police corruption has been in the works since at least 2012. The footage includes admissions of cannabis use, expressions of love for family members, promises that anyone who is a “good cop has nothing to worry about” in this documentary (which is purportedly being funded via Netflix), and vague assertions of being silenced while an active member of the town’s police force. At one point, apparently speaking to New Paltz officers, Sisco said that they “forced my hand and you’ll regret it, mark my words.” Specifics about the documentary are lacking, but there are frequent references to transparency and hypocrisy, and Sisco also speaks derisively about the “us vs. them” mentality which was part of the education during the police academy. As Sisco was an officer in New York City first, it’s unclear which academy was attended.
At the January 21 town council meeting, Edgar Rodriguez called out apparent hypocrisy in this process. Acknowledging that Sisco has done things that are worthy of discipline, Rodriguez reminded board members of an earlier incident, one involving Ellenville resident Paul Echols and town police officer Robert Knoth. Knoth admitted to striking Echols — previously injured from a fight on the street — while Echols was handcuffed and in the back of a police vehicle. A citizens’ group created by the town council to review cases of police misconduct found that excessive force had been used; that report was rejected for being excessive in its scope, and the group thereafter dissolved as illegally created. Knoth — who is white — quickly retired, and Rodriguez noted that there appeared to be a very different approach to addressing the issues with Sisco, a black officer. That support was markedly different from what Sisco received when the rap video became public, and a group of white people carrying American flags marched down Main Street in support of the officer’s first amendment right to freedom of speech. They were met by considerably more counter-protesters who framed the issue as one of race and gender discrimination by police officers.
Whether or not Rodriguez is correct that institutional racism played a factor may hinge on information that was only hinted at during this public meeting. Deputy supervisor Dan Torres asked Chief Robert Lucchesi if Sisco’s badge and sidearm had been confiscated, and also about the status of Sisco’s other weapons. Sisco runs a business called Black Mambo Rifle Co. Lucchesi did confirm that the official items had been returned, but as for Sisco’s private collection, the chief said, “We are working on that,” and added that it would be inappropriate to comment further on an ongoing investigation.