Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra and second in command captain Stephen Filak informed the Town Board last Friday that they plan to retire in September. Sinagra has been on paid administrative leave since late July.
On Monday, town supervisor Fred Costello said the resignation letters will be discussed during a Town Board meeting planned for Wednesday, August 16, and he could not discuss particulars about either resignation until then.
“I would say I lean toward surprised,” said Costello of his reaction to the resignations.
The turmoil in the Saugerties Police Department (SPD) became public earlier this year when allegations of harassment and sexual assault by officer Dion Johnson were made public, a case that led the Town Board to put Sinagra on administrative leave in late July. Former Town Police Chief Lou Barbaria, who last served in the role in 2012 prior to the merger of the town and village police departments, was hired as interim chief.
“Chief Barbaria will be returning to basically cover all bases while the potential investigation will progress,” said councilwoman Leeanne Thornton.
Following Sinagra’s suspension, the Town Board voted to do what Sinagra would not: Seek assistance from the Ulster County DA. On August 4, Ulster County District Attorney David Clegg confirmed that his office was investigating the complaints at the behest of town officials and will continue to investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment lodged against officer Johnson. Clegg said that it is not his office’s policy to discuss investigations.
Allegations against Johnson were detailed in a 14-page report by New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office (LEMIO). Published on Friday, July 7, the report maintains that the SPD referred complaints made against Johnson to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) as required by law enforcement agencies for any officer receiving at least five complaints in a two-year period, and that after a thorough investigation, LEMIO concluded that Johnson was subject to disciplinary action by the SPD as a result of his alleged misconduct.
In August 2020, a civilian resident in Saugerties filed a complaint that Johnson subjected her to repeated harassment, including sending inappropriate messages and pictures on social media. Johnson was also alleged to have sexually assaulted the woman in her home while on duty in late August 2020. The complainant provided the SPD and the OAG with images taken from a motion-triggered camera inside her kitchen following an August 31 voicemail left for SPD Chief Joseph Sinagra alleging that Johnson was “in my apartment at 2 o’clock in the morning, when’s he’s supposed to be working, in uniform on my cameras … I think it’s best if you spoke to him about harassing females in the community[.]”
With the likely resignation of both Sinagra and Filak going into effect next month, the Town Board will at least partly shift its focus to include filling two positions of authority in the SPD.
“If this all pans out and the chief mission does become vacant, Chief Barbaria is only here as a stopgap, so we will be canvassing for a new chief at some point this year,” said Costello. “The board will have to come up with a process about how we want to move forward.”