ONEONTA -- An attorney for an Oneonta police officer who allegedly beat a man during an arrest said his client is being retaliated against for a sexual harassment complaint involving the city's former police chief.
Elmer Robert Keach III stood on the steps of City Hall on Monday morning. Officer Michael Breen was on his left. Breen's family and fiancee stood behind.
Bradford Shanks, 39, of Oneonta, told The Daily Star in early February that after a Jan. 28 traffic stop on Market Street, he was put in a headlock by Breen and punched.
Shanks, who was charged that day with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation, resisting arrest, second-degree harassment and unlawful possession of marijuana, said the alleged beating occurred after he fled on foot to find a sergeant at the nearby police station to resolve a disputed license suspension.
Shanks also said that during the arrest, he was reaching into his pocket to ensure his money wouldn't fall out.
Keach said Breen was concerned Shanks may have had a weapon, and although he would not disclose precisely the type of force used by Breen during the arrest, Keach said it was appropriate. Keach denied Breen punched Shanks.
"He's got a right to subdue him," Keach said. "Are you going to risk not coming home to your family? The force used against this gentleman was justified in light of the situation."
Keach said his client, who was initially suspended without pay and is now on paid leave, is being targeted over sexual harassment allegations against former Police Chief Joseph Redmond.
"I perceive that Mr. Breen is being used as a punching bag," Keach said.
Breen had sent an e-mail to all eight aldermen and the mayor suggesting his suspension was because of an anonymous sexual harassment complaint earlier this year against Redmond.
That complaint, investigated by city Personnel Director Kathy Wolverton, was judged by the city to be unfounded, and no action was taken against Redmond, who was with the department for more than 30 years.
Keach denied his client had filed the original, anonymous complaint and only said it was another employee at the police department who did.
Mayor Dick Miller said he would not respond to Keach's claims.
"I don't have any comment on it," Miller said. "The lawyers are all lawyering, and I don't have any comment on his allegations."
Redmond gave notice in early March he would retire, effective April 15, and was placed on paid administrative leave. Lt. Dennis Nayor took over as officer-in-charge of the 28-person Oneonta Police Department. Temporary Chief Gary O'Neill's first day as head of the department was also Monday.
Redmond's retirement announcement came after the chief did not want to oversee the department at a time when the city attempts to correct its problems, according to the mayor, who indicated there were repeated failures in communication between the police department and City Hall.
The Common Council, when it meets tonight, will consider a motion to appoint an administrative hearing officer to preside over the internal disciplinary hearing.
If the motion passes, that officer, Thomas Rinaldo, will be paid at a per diem rate not to exceed $1,400 to preside over the hearing, make a report and forward a recommendation to the Common Council. That term of service is expected to last several days, according to the mayor.
Breen was served with internal disciplinary charges that indicate the city will seek to fire him, according to Keach.
A labor lawyer, Richard Aswad of Binghamton, is handling that matter on Breen's behalf, said Keach, who indicated he became involved about a month ago.
Keach said it is his role to defend Breen's reputation, represent him if criminal charges are lodged and potentially file a civil suit.