But also want sheriff to let them see records

Putnam County legislators on Tuesday (June 9) objected to a bill that will repeal a state law prohibiting public disclosure of police discipline records — while also insisting that the sheriff give them access.

“It’s a sad day for all law enforcement folks in New York state to have that repealed,” said Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast, who chairs the Legislature’s Protective Services Committee. “Basically, now everything will become public. I’m ashamed New York State went down this road.” 

Jonke pointed out that Democrats control both state legislative chambers and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, promised to sign the repeal.

By contrast, the nine-member Putnam Legislature consists of eight Republicans and one Democrat, Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown.

Legislator Joseph Castellano of Brewster proposed that the Legislature send a letter of opposition to state officials (as it has done previously, on 8-1 votes, over bail reform and a change to abortion laws). 

Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac expressed sadness “that this civil rights law is going to be repealed. The original intent was to protect law enforcement against fishing expeditions” for detrimental information about officers, she said.

Montgomery said that, given the state Legislature’s repeal, “this should have been just taken off the agenda” of the committee.

But they still devoted much of Tuesday’s meeting, held via audio connection, to sparring with Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. over their desire to access his agency’s records. 

Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. (File photo by Ross Corsair)

“For quite some time,” Jonke said, “this body has requested the ability to examine disciplinary records. We have an obligation to our constituents to be mindful of complaints or disciplinary charges.” He assured Langley that the Legislature “has never intended for this information to be made public.”

Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac added that “we’ve never asked for anyone’s home address or even their names.” He suggested that the sheriff meet with legislators privately. “We’re allowed to ask questions and to get information,” he said.

Legislators also cited the potential financial burdens of misconduct. “The county is exposed to a lot of litigation,” said Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel. “It’s important that law enforcement act in an appropriate manner. I believe they do, for the most part. It’s a moral obligation that things are done right.”

Langley said he was reluctant to share records because keeping legislators out of the loop prevented them from being suspected if the information is leaked.

“Somewhere, somehow, I don’t know by whom, certain information that’s been confidential in investigations seems to leak out,” he said. “You have to plug up certain areas to find where that leak is.” 

“So you don’t want to provide information to the Legislature because you’re afraid we might leak it?” Jonke asked sharply.

“I have to eliminate possibilities of where the leak is,” Langley said.

A statement that Langley posted Tuesday on his unofficial Facebook page also proved divisive.

In it, Langley denied what he said were rumors that he would provide deputies’ personal information to the committee. He also claimed that some legislators “and other members of county government want to have unfettered access” to police personnel files.

“I have stood before the Legislature more than once, on the record in public meetings, opposing access to personnel records, as some members persist [in trying] to have those records released,” he wrote.

Jonke objected that “this is 1,000 percent untrue” and termed the Facebook comment “outrageously reprehensible.” 

Langley said legislative materials corroborated his claim. And while he said he opposed the repeal of the state shield law, he noted that the Legislature would soon have access if the governor enacts the bill passed by the Assembly and Senate.  [Editor’s note: The governor signed the bill into law on June 12.]

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as Philipstown.info) in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government