In the Capital Region, 2018 began with a prominent area police shooting case making headlines. It’s ending in similar fashion.
In January, a 200-page report from the New York Attorney General’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit carried no charges but found the Troy Police department made several mistakes during the April 2016 shooting of Edson Thevenin by Sergeant Randall French after a traffic stop and its investigation. Procedural changes were recommended. That case lingered during the campaign for DA, which Republican Joel Abelove lost to Democrat Mary Pat Donnelly.
Albany Law School professor emerita and former defense attorney Laurie Shanks: "Rensselaer County's District Attorney Joel Abelove allowed Sergeant French to testify before the grand jury without a waiver of immunity. Without a waiver of immunity, no matter what the grand jury had found, Sergeant French could not have been prosecuted. What happened next is that Joel Abelove went and had a press conference, went on TV, spoke to the radio, spoke to the newspapers and said that the grand jury had cleared Sergeant French and found that he acted appropriately. In fact, the grand jury didn't clear him. The Troy Police and Joel Abelove made sure that he was protected and that he could not be prosecuted no matter what the true facts were."
In Cohoes, Mayor Shawn Morse continued deflecting calls from other public officials including the governor to step down after a series of scathing articles in the Times Union painted a picture of the powerful Albany County Democrat as having a history of physical incidents with women dating back three decades.
Morse continued making headlines throughout the year. He defied calls to resign, holding press conferences to reveal intimate details about himself and his family. "If I wasn’t the mayor of the city we wouldn’t be talking about this, because there’s a million people across this country who have had to deal with some of the most painful things, that me and my wife dealt with. And we’re still trying to work through them and make everything good for our family."
The city of Albany had ramped up its search for a new police chief in April by scheduling a series of community meetings. Civil rights activist Dr. Alice Green was among the first to interact with the "search team." "We were able to give some input into the process that's going forward now. And I think that community involvement is a kay part of this whole process. I'm happy to see that they're thinking about how to do that."
By July, Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced that Southfield, Michigan Police Chief Eric Hawkins was her pick for the job. "He is the only person I extended an offer to and I was very pleased that he accepted it."
Alice Green: "He has a lot of experience in law enforcement. He's very concerned about community policing."
Albany County DA David Soares: "He will be welcomed here with open arms."
Hawkins came to town during a summer spike in violent crime and a series of shootings that attracted the Guardian Angels back to Albany after a decades-long absence. Sheehan pulled up the welcome mat. Angels founder and leader Curtis Sliwa: "If I'm an outsider, what is your brand new police commissioner, Eric Hawkins?' I mean he's further away from Albany than I am in New York City, and I've already spent time in the 80's in Arbor Hill and the South End."
Sliwa eventually left town, Hawkins eventually was sworn in as chief and resolved to heal old wounds. "And to the members of the Albany Police Officers Union and the Albany Police Supervisors Association, I really look forward to sitting down with you and discussing some of the issues, some of the concerns as leaders, as spokespersons for the men and women of the Albany Police Department."
The violent summer was capped off a police shooting that once again divided the community.
While Hawkins was appearing on a live WAMC broadcast, Green announced that the Center for Law and Justice sent a letter to DA Soares asking him to recuse his office from investigating the August 20th Albany police-shooting of 19-year-old Ellazar Williams, who was paralyzed from the waist down.
A petition campaign is under way demanding Soares drop all criminal charges against Williams after both an internal police investigation and an Albany County Grand Jury cleared the detective who shot him.