*"So your local sheriff is driving around piss drunk and you fire the person who reported it? Are you opposed to the law or just people who report those who are breaking it? This is just another example of pigs enforcing one set of rules while playing by another. If you don't want follow the law, then don't be a cop. It's too bad this jerk didn't kill someone, then they could have sued you for supplying the alcohol." *".... Now that this is national news, you won't be able to hide behind you local yocal boys. I will do everything I can to make sure no one I know ever goes near your place.” *"...How dare you fire someone who tells the truth and exposes the hypocrisy of your town. The man that choose to drink and drive should be punished. We are all tired of cronyism and red neck good ole boy mentality." *"...I will be spreading the news of your mental capacity and lack of concern of your very own community… We guess the sheriff must be a friend and does you favors. Maybe this will end your favors."THE LIPSTEIN VERSION. According to Lipstein and Kaupas, the firing of Jeff Valentin had nothing to do with threats of retaliation against Stewart House. There weren’t any. None. This excellent chef had to be fired because he did a bad thing, and because it came on the heels of previous misdeeds that, among other effects, hurt Stewart House. During past monts, in spite of repeated calls to desist, he had freely voiced crude “bigotry”toward an assortment of groups, including cops. Expressing intense hostility to the police--fueled by a personal run-in over drunk driving--he talked of conducting what amounted to "a vendetta.” Finally, he set out on a stalking expedition. When, gloating, he showed his videotape to Stewart House staff, Valentin crossed the line yet again. And what he boasted about—the deliberate, aggressive stalking of a police target-- amounted to relishing the perpetration of “a hate crime.”
Saturday, October 01, 2005
The Sheriff, the Chef, and...
The unfolding, lavishly publicized story of Sheriff Richard Hussey’s drunk driving case has eclipsed the unfolding, unpublicized story of the Daily Mail's disintegration. About the latter, tune in to our next posting. About the former, here are some of the facts—more than you can get from any news source, or all of them—mixed with hunches. BARE BONES Hussey was stopped by State troopers near his home in Jefferson Heights at a bit past one o’clock Sunday morning (9/25), on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The stoppage occurred in response to a call from a civilian who reported observations he allegedly was making and videotaping of the target vehicle from the time it left a Catskill restaurant. The driver failed some standard sobriety tests, refused to take a Breathalyzer test, was then placed under arrest, taken before Town Justice Peter Margolius, arraigned on the charge of driving while intoxicated (a misdemeanor) and released without bail pending appearance before Margolius on Thursday (9/29). He duly reappeared, flanked by counsel, and applied successfully for a 45-day adjournment of proceedings. THE PUBLICITY. News stories about those events, and some related elements, appeared on the Albany-based television stations that offer local news, on most of capital region’s radio stations (via Associated Press), and in newspapers ranging downward from the Middletown Times-Register, the North Country Gazette and the Albany TimesUnion, through the nearby Register-Star, Daily Mail and Daily Freeman to Long Island’s Newsday. These treatments also have said that Hussey (age 65 or 64) was a military policeman and a State trooper before being elected sheriff in 1999 and re-elected in 2003. Some also recall that earlier this year, a deputy who was involved in a crash outside a bar, and who lied (along with his passengers) about the circumstances, was fired from the sheriff’s department. Some news stories, moreover, have touched on a side story that grew out of the Hussey case. From their treatments, from talks with knowledgeable local sources, and from interviews with most of the principals, we have drawn these notes. THE LAWYERS. Hussey’s prosecution will not be conducted by District Attorney Terry Wilhelm or an assistant. Instead, Wilhelm has recruited a special prosecutor: Robert Winn, district attorney of Washington County. This procedure is a common practice when there is a perceived need to allay suspicions that the prosecution would be feeble, or even would be dropped, on account of friendship. For his defense, meanwhile, Sheriff Hussey recruited Albany attorney Peter Gerstenzang, who wrote the definitive book Handling the DWI Case in New York. THE OFFICE. Hussey’s future does not hinge directly on the trial's verdict. As an elected official, he cannot be fired. He can, however, be advised or urged by influential people to resign. He can, for example, be invited to believe that the immediate case serves to confirm gossip about other bibulous episodes and thus to undermine his credibility. If he were to resign, authority to pick an interim sheriff lies with Governor George Pataki. THE TROOPER. Making the stop on Hussey (under civilian scrutiny), and writing the arrest report,was trooper Mark A. Prestigiacomo (shield 5022). He is the son of County Legislator Dorothy Prest and of former Deputy Sheriff Andy Prest. When he realized that the driver he had been prompted to stop was the sheriff, he radioed for guidance. Sergeant checked with lieutenant, who called captain, who authorized arrest. THE TRAIL. Hussey’s arrival at the Country Club Estates Road stopping point was preceded by a longer stop, in company, at the Creekside restaurant. This was preceded by a stop at Tatiana’s, following attendance at a Saturday night party at the Elks Club. That party, attended by many law enforcement- related people, celebrated the retirement of Roger Masse as chief of Catskill Village police. According to participants, it was a tame affair, which Hussey left at around 10 pm. THE TRACKER. Among guests at the Elks Club party were Owen Lipstein and Koren Kaupas, owner and manager respectively of Stewart House, the historic bed & breakfast and restaurant in Athens. When Lipstein and Kaupas returned and mentioned where they had been, their head chef, Jeff Valentin, immediately drove away, stopped to pick up a companion --Damien C. Lameray of East Durham--and, armed with a video camera, went on the trail of Hussey. The trackers found Hussey at the Creekside where, according to Lameray’s deposition in the arrest report, he consumed, in the course of about an hour, four glasses of white wine. When he left, Valentin followed, called the State police, and took pictures of Hussey’s vehicle’s movements and of the eventual stoppage and arrest. Thus, Valentin was the civilian whose promptings led to the arrest of Hussey. THE SACKING. When Lipstein and Kaupas went back to Stewart House on Sunday morning, Valentin was there and was showing an employee the videotape of his tracking expedition. He was, says Lipstein, “acting like he’d bagged an elk.” That gloating, the character of the deed it celebrated, and questions about the ramifications prompted Lipstein and Kaumas to review the history of their troublesome dealings with their prized chef. To avoid acting rashly, they drove off and spent the day in a shopping mall. Upon their return, at about 6 pm., as dinner was being prepared, Lipstein abruptly made a decision: “You’re out of here.” About that decision, about its causation and justice, there are roughly two schools of thought. THE VALENTIN VERSION. The man who fired him, Jeff Valentin told Seeing Greene, is “a good man, a great man who a lot of people misunderstand.” And although Lipstein was “in utter disagreement with what I did”—with the deliberate stalking—Lipstein gave him the sack because he "feared harassment" by law-enforcement people against Stewart House for the independent act of an employee. And he caved in to "threats." In a television interview, Valentin voiced the epithet “coward.” In the words of his brother, Jim Valentin, Lipstein “folded up like a cheap suit.” As for the merit of his victorious tracking, Jeff Valentin says “I did something for everybody,” namely, bringing a drunk driver to book and striking a blow against the “hypocrisy” whereby cops apply to civilians laws which they do not apply to themselves. That version of events and motives captivated an Albany-based radio talker. According to J.R. Gach (FM 94.5), Valentin “got fired for” blowing the whistle on a drunk cop. That's the plain, odious truth of the matter; denial is rubbish. So listeners should “express extreme outrage.” “Call down there”—here’s the number for Stewart House, down there in hicksville—“and ask if this is the place where the guy got fired for narking on the Greene County sheriff.” Gach fans evidently complied, with epithet-laden phone calls, along with e-mails such as