By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 2, 2002 For the past few years, Village of Monticello Police Chief Michael Brennan and the head of the police force's detectives, Sgt. Michael Bunce, have worked as process servers (handing out subpoenas and other legal documents that need to be delivered door-to-door, etc.). While it is no secret both have been doing this, questions have been raised as to whether the two have been using police equipment and serving papers on village time. In fact, the New York State Attorney General's (AG) office has launched an investigation into the matter.
Both Brennan and Bunce have insisted in the past that they do not conduct private business while on village time. And while both are process servers, the two men do not work together. However, due to the ongoing investigation, neither Brennan, Bunce, nor the Attorney General's office would comment on the specific situation.
Mayor Gary Sommers, however, felt free to speak on the matter criticizing the unknown whistleblowers, rumored to be nine Monticello police officers, who directly contacted the AG.
"I am very upset that this was not brought up through the chain of command," he remarked. "There is a proper way to do things. I am also upset that accusations have been made, and the group doing it has not identified themselves to the village."
So far, no evidence of any improprieties has been presented to the village, said Sommers. And the Attorney General's investigation remains a civil one, not a criminal one. Both Brennan and Bunce continue to do their jobs (although Brennan is currently on vacation).
"They were not doing this secretly. I have no beef with them," commented Village Manager Richard Sush. "The Attorney General will conduct their investigation and, if necessary, will take the appropriate action. For now, we will just wait and see."
Due to conflicts of interest, the village will have to hire outside counsel for this situation. Village Attorney Michael Davidoff cannot defend the officers because Brennan's daughter works for Davidoff. Also, Deputy Village Attorney Sharon Jankiewicz cannot be used because her law firm (specifically, Henri Shawn) represents the two officers personally. The mayor said he is leaning toward hiring Richard Stoloff to defend them.
While the investigation continues, Sommers continues to be upset with the police force.
"Personally, I have always been straight and up front with the police," Sommers stated. "They should not presume someone is guilty until proven innocent. I would like to see somebody come forward with some hard evidence. As it stands now, I am not in favor of a suspension."
Sommers then offered some tough words for the villages police force.
"If something were to happen to the chief, I would be in favor of bringing someone in from the outside," Sommers said. "If these actions continue [i.e., skipping the chain of command], I will call for an investigation of the police force. I would ask the governor's office to conduct the investigation because I feel there may be a conflict with the Attorney General's office."
Sommers said that one of the AG's investigators is the sister of a former police officer, and he is not sure if the AG's office is aware of that.
Both Sommers and Sush expect the matter to be brought up in public comment at the next village board meeting on Monday, August 5. However, both pointed out that it cannot be discussed in public session because it is a personnel issue and may lead to litigation.