Recently Stephen Cole-Hatchard described by the Journal News as a Clarkstown police sergeant filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Clarkstown officials, claiming they ordered him off a specialized investigative unit because he looked into a dismissed police officer’s $218,000 contribution toward several Republican campaigns, including Town Supervisor George Hoehmann. The lawsuit claims that an email exchange he had with a Journal News reporter earlier this year was used by town officials as a way to punish him for offering his off-the-record opinion on the contribution.
The results of Cole-Hatchard’s lawsuit remain to be seen, but his lawsuit is not the only one winding their way through the courts. There are a few others that are underway as a result of actions and decisions taken under the former Gromack administration.
Recently, Police Officer Robert Lynn won a many years’ long battle in Supreme Court with the town and its then-attorney, Richard Glickel. Glickel is now in private practice and is Chief Sullivan’s attorney in the matters surrounding the chief’s suspension.
Lynn claimed that money is owed to him for back wages and accrued time over a career that spanned more than two decades. Clarkstown calculates he is owed $168,000 and has begun to pay that amount with Lynn also seeking interest on the payments that were improperly withheld.
Lynn alleged that when Chief Sullivan was made Captain he was directed to “see what could be done to address the injured officers’ issues.” What followed, according to Lynn, was that anyone who stood up for the rights of the injured officers were targeted by Sullivan and Captain Ovchinnikoff and punished. Lynn stated that as a senior patrolman and veteran officer of 30 years he made many complaints to Supervisor Gromack about alleged unethical and illegal actions taken by Chief Sullivan and Captain Ovchinnikoff.
Lynn had surgery in July 2012 resulting from a work injury and asked to be placed on GML 207-c benefits. He was denied. According to the Journal News Sullivan denied Lynn disability benefits in a letter dated Aug. 14, 2012, because he found the officer was walking back to his patrol car after going to the bathroom. Sullivan felt walking back to the patrol car was not part of performing the duties of a police officer and ordered Lynn back to work. Lynn attempted to return to work in August 2012 and asked for a light duty assignment while his recovery continued. Lynn alleges his request was refused.
In October 2012 Lynn injured the same body part while at work. He had to undergo further surgery and Chief Sullivan allegedly denied making a determination of his GML 207-c benefits. According to Lynn, doctors told him that the police department instructed them not to provide copies to him of their findings. Lynn states that he was also ordered by Captain Ovchinnikoff to not speak with the doctors or disciplinary action would be taken against him for disobeying an order.
In April 2013 Lynn filed an Article 78 with the Supreme Court to force Sullivan to make a decision on his GML 207-c benefits and he alleges that he was informed by members of the PBA Union that the Chief was going to take whatever steps were necessary to “force him out.”
Chief Sullivan subsequently denied the benefits in May 2013 and in June 2013 Lynn won his Article 78 in the NYS Supreme Court. The court ordered the town to restore all of his sick time and to place him on GML 207-c. The judge stated that Chief’s Sullivan’s denial was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Apparently Attorney Glickel and the Chief did not obey the court order. By August 2013 Lynn’s sick time was running out as the Chief had refused to carry out the Supreme Court’s order. During that summer of 2013, Lynn’s youngest son became ill and lost 60 pounds of weight. He was hospitalized in August 2013 in critical condition with his organs shutting down. While his son was in the critical care unit, Lynn received a letter from the town indicating that on August 31, 2013 he would be removed from the town’s payroll and his health insurance would be cancelled.
Lynn’s attorney along with members of the PBA attempted to get the chief to reverse this decision. Included in the documents detailing Lynn’s allegations was a copy of a letter from the PBA sent on September 3, 2013 to Chief Sullivan which reads:
“I am writing in regards to our telephone conversation of late last week in which you informed me that the town and police department are taking the incredibly aggressive step of separating Police Officer Robert Lynn from payroll. I have spoken to officers with more than three decades of service, and have not learned of any similar situations in which a member was taken off payroll while a 207 (c) case was ongoing. Sadly, it is the perception of many, that the town is trying a bullying tactic by “starving” a member out to force his retirement, by withholding income he is due.”
Rockland Voice contacted the former PBA official who authored the letter seeking comment but the official declined and stated that any inquiries should go to the current PBA officials.
After pressure from the PBA Union and threats of litigation Chief Sullivan allowed Lynn’s health insurance benefits to continue but only until October 2013. He still refused to grant the 207-c benefits ordered by the Supreme Court and Lynn was removed from payroll.
In December 2013 the New York State Supreme Court again found that Chief Sullivan’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and the town was ordered to restore all of Lynn’s sick time and benefits. Yet Chief Sullivan again attempted to cancel Lynn’s health insurance and further court action was necessary; but still Sullivan refused to obey the court’s order.
Sullivan and Glickel appealed to the NYS Appelate Court 2nd Department which ruled again against the chief confirming that his decisions were arbitrary and capricious. Yet Sullivan persisted in his obstinacy and made a motion to the Appellate Court asking permission to request the New York State Court of Appeals to hear the case. The Appellate court denied his motions. All of the costs of this litigation was borne by the taxpayers of Clarkstown.
Today Lynn’s case is over and the Town has admitted defeat. “This case should have never gotten this far and the actions of the prior administration and their appointees have brought us to this point,” Hoehmann’s Chief of Staff, Vincent Balascio said. “They (the Gromack administration and the Police Department) knew the case was a loser, but kept engaging in petty personality politics and lost.
“Now the taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements and legal fees.”
[Editors Note: Part of the charges against Chief Sullivan refer to remarks he made about the Lynn case. In the next report Rockland Voice will cover a different officer’s lawsuit that is still ongoing against the town from the past Gromack administration. Graffiti was placed on officers’ lockers, on written materials, and allegedly even on a paycheck.]