Early one morning in May 2016, as a Schenectady woman tells it, she was driving around looking for recyclables in trash bins, when a pickup truck began tailing her. It turned out that the driver was none other than Mayor Gary McCarthy, who uttered words that frightened Sarah Dingley before following her. Dingley recognized the mayor, thought she smelled alcohol, and dialed 9-1-1. Now, a special prosecutor says McCarthy and the police made mistakes in handling the incident, but no criminal charges have been brought.
Dingley told authorities McCarthy, driving a pickup truck, followed her van all the way to the police station. She remained on the line with emergency dispatchers through the entire incident. Video from an outdoor camera near the police station shows that after awhile, five officers came out of the station house, where McCarthy told them he suspected Dingley and her passenger might be burglarizing cars. He said he tried to use his cell phone to call police but the call would not go through.
In that same video footage, McCarthy can be seen cutting off the Dingley vehicle. Despite Dingley wanting to press charges, none were filed. In June, the Schenectady County District Attorney asked for a special prosecutor to look into the incident, a task that went to Saratoga County DA Karen Heggen. Late last week, Heggen cleared McCarthy of any wrongdoing, but found that an outside police agency should have been called in and McCarthy, a second-term Democrat, should have been given a field sobriety test. Independent city councilman Vince Riggi agrees. "I was really surprised that the police department isn't issuing some kind of statement to at least say 'Here's how this will be handled from here on in.' I mean, the Heggen's report is saying there was no preferential treatment, but I think that's just - it goes without saying. Everybody there that night, other than Sarah Dingley, knew he was the mayor of the city of Schenectady, who is the direct boss over the police department. You know, it' s strange. But the police department got put in a bad way, in a compromising position, no question about that, and in my opinion there's only one person to blame for that, and that's the mayor of the city of Schenectady."
The events have triggered an internal police probe. Heggen’s report says the "actions of members of the Schenectady police department" and McCarthy "raise concerns." McCarthy and the police did not respond to requests for comment from WAMC.
According to the Times Union, Lt. Wesley McGhee is the likely focus of the probe because he was in charge and made the decision to dismiss McCarthy and Dingley following seperate interviews, after Sgt. Michael Dalton stated that he believed State Police should be called to investigate.
Miles Reed is managing editor of the Schenectady Gazette. "In fact, the lieutenant who was in charge of the scene was one of the individuals who was in the running to be the next chief. He was involved intricately in the investigation that night. And we felt that in a case like that, he really should have called in some kind of other police agency to handle it, given the fact that this was gonna involve the mayor, and they knew it right form the call happening and they certainly knew it as soon as they saw the mayor pull up."
In his interview with Heggen's investigators, Dalton told Heggen's people he smelled alcohol around McCarthy, but wasn't close enough to tell if it was from his breath. McCarthy has consistently denied being drunk. "At least one of the officers that night who was at the scene, who was interviewed by DA Heggen said he felt the right thing to have done would have been to call another police agency, he also expressed some concerns that maybe he thought that there were some indications that the mayor had been drinking, although he wasn't close enough. And then to his surprise, the mayor was sent away very swiftly, even before he felt that the case was handled satisfactorily. So the big thing now is we're waiting for Chief Clifford to find out what he's got going on. The other thing we'd like to know is maybe whether the city council is going to at least say something publicly about this."
Councilman Riggi feels serious accusations about the highest official in the city have not been addressed. "Has he really been cleared? No, because, in my opinion, no, because the right thing wasn't done that night, and that's the bottom line. So there's always gonna be question and innuendo about this. It can't be helped. And if I was in the mayor's position and somebody was accusing me, of being drunk, and I smell alcohol on him, I would have asked for the breathalyzer that night, the field sobriety test, that's what I would have done."
Riggi says it's too bad it all happened this way. "In my opinion, if Sgt. Dalton was in charge that night, there would have been no need for a Heggen report. There would have been no need for any of this stuff. He was poised to do the right thing that night, but he was countermanded."
Dingley, who told Heggen's special investigators she wished the whole thing would just go away, long ago stopped returning media calls for comment.