TROY – The city police drug unit is under investigation for allegedly filing a false burglary report in an attempt to cover up entering a home without a search warrant, several city government sources said Friday.
The drug unit went to the residence on a tip from another Capital Region police agency, according to the sources who were provided information on the case but are not authorized to speak about it.
The alleged coverup resulted in a “fractious argument” among the members of drug unit, which is commanded by Sgt. Ron Epstein, the sources said.
Mayor Patrick Madden said the members of the Firearms Interdiction and Narcotics Suppression (FINS) unit were all placed on leave in a personnel matter involving certain officers’ conduct “during a particular occasion.”
“An internal investigation has been commenced to protect the integrity of the Troy Police Department and reassure the public’s continued trust and confidence in our law enforcement officials,” Madden said in a written announcement Friday.
City Council President Carmella Mantello questioned the decision to take the six officers off duty.
“I am deeply concerned that this would remove from the front line a total police department unit in our city’s fight against drugs and related matters,” she said in a press release. “I am calling upon the mayor to advise the council and the public as to how the city would fill the gap and responsibilities of this important unit.”
Mantello issued that statement after the mayor had spoken with the other council members, but not with her.
“While part of this issue is a personnel issue, according to the city, the actual circumstances of this case should be revealed,” Mantello said. “In other words, what specifically caused the removal of this unit from their duties of protecting the public?”
In an email to Mantello, Madden said her comments before they had discussed the matter left him “speechless.”
“This morning, I spoke directly to each of the other eight City Council members. When I called you I received back a text that stated you were busy,” Madden wrote. “I replied asking when you would be free. While I haven’t yet heard back from you, somehow you found the time to draft and release to the press the above statement clearly intended to raise panic and concern amongst the public.”
The Democratic mayor and Republican council president had often engaged in political disputes.
On Friday, Madden told Mantello, “This is a time to come together and support our police department and our community and not to sow seeds of divisiveness. Had you taken the time to speak with me I would have discussed with you the facts of the situation at hand so that we can stand together in addressing this important matter. Instead, you took this as an opportunity to attempt to raise your public profile.”
Mayor’s office spokesman John Salka said there would be no additional comment until the investigation is concluded. “We’re going to stick by the statement.” he said.
It’s not known if the current investigation will affect criminal cases in which drug unit members are witnesses. It’s anticipated that defense attorneys will raise the issue of how the unit conducts investigations during any upcoming drug and weapons trials.
There also may be repercussions for the city police department’s relationship with the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Two members of the drug unit serve as liaisons with the two federal law enforcement agencies.
Officers placed on paid administrative leave can only be suspended without pay following a hearing. Such a suspension would last for 30 days before they go back on the payroll.
On Friday, the mayor praised the police department, calling it “a highly trained, professional group of men and women who are committed to serve and protect our community with distinction, and the conduct of a few officers on a specific occasion should not impact the reputation of the entire department.”