Board keeps suspended official's charges secret

Scuderi-Hunter

DELHI — The charges against Dana Scuderi-Hunter, who was formally suspended last month from her position as commissioner of the Delaware County Department of Social Services, were still not made public Friday in the second day of a disciplinary hearing.

Throughout the proceedings, appointed hearing officer Albert Riccio favored prosecutor Frank Miller’s objections over defense attorney Ronald Dunn’s, overruling each of the latter’s six objections within the first two hours of testimony, and heeding the majority of those posed by the former.

Dunn objected repeatedly to Miller’s use of leading questions, which Riccio said are permitted in hearings of this nature, as well as Miller’s asking witnesses to recount events that happened outside the 18-month statute of limitations — as far back as six or seven years, according to Glueckert’s recollection; when Scuderi-Hunter was still a caseworker.

Under New York Civil Service Law, events beyond the statute may only be addressed on the record in a disciplinary proceeding when they involve a criminal matter, which Dunn contended was not the case, but Riccio allowed the testimony to continue, siding with Miller’s claim that the witness accounts were necessary in order to establish background leading up to the charges.

Richard Graham, former county attorney for Lewis County, testified to the responsibilities and purview of county attorneys, as Miller appeared in his questions to lay the foundation for an argument contrary to Scuderi-Hunter’s assertion that she was within her right to testify in a family court proceeding concerning a youth in her custody as commissioner.

Miller repeatedly emphasized that the department of social services is not a party in proceedings for juvenile delinquents or persons in need of supervision — commonly referred to as PINS cases — which Graham said are typically presented by or on behalf of the department of probation.

The day’s testimony provided more insight about the children at the center of contention between the commissioner and Delaware County, referred to only as “Youth No. 1” or “Youth No. 2.”  A third unnamed youth was mentioned in Wednesday’s proceedings but was not discussed Friday.

Youth No. 1, a 14-year-old boy with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, was previously assigned to former caseworker Angela Barnes, who included in her testimony Wednesday that she transported the youth from his home in Sidney to the department of probation, housed in the Delaware County Public Safety Building in Delhi, on the morning of May 13, after what she described as a “rough weekend” for the family.

Upon their arrival, a probation officer attempted to drug-test the youth, who refused and continued to act belligerently, according to Scott Glueckert, director of probation and witness for the prosecution, who said the youth threatened him and the officer “at least 15 to 20 times.”

Glueckert said that the youth tackled him and had to be restrained and handcuffed by two or three probation officers before he calmed down. When asked by Dunn if the youth was successful in taking him to the ground, Glueckert skirted the question, replying “he’s bigger than me … he put his shoulder down and barreled me into the wall.”

Glueckert testified that Youth No. 2 was regularly found under the influence of drugs and alcohol and ran away repeatedly from the various foster placements Scuderi-Hunter recommended, each time resulting in his arrest.

On one occasion, Youth No. 2 was apprehended with another escaped youth by Syracuse police after they stole a car and fled there, and on another occasion, the youth “took off and was living on the streets of Oneonta,” physically attacking passersby at random, according to Glueckert.

In both cases, Scuderi-Hunter continued to advocate for placement in drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, Glueckert said, arguing that she had “no factual basis” for her opinion and claiming her opposition stemmed from the cost of detention, which is charged to her department, and quoting her as complaining of its expense.

“Detention is sort of like jail for kids,” Glueckert explained, describing facilities with barbed wire, secured doors, mental health treatment and age-appropriate educational programs.

“We don’t usually get detention orders in Delaware County,” he added, noting that these were the first cases he could recall since 2003.

Glueckert said that Scuderi-Hunter offered the attorney for Youth No. 2 placement in a foster home with “24/7 eyes-on monitoring” and an electronic monitoring device worn around the ankle.

By Scuderi-Hunter allegedly making that recommendation, Glueckert contended she was conspiring against the county in the court proceeding, though he later admitted he never heard what was said between her and the defense attorney, only that he saw the two having a conversation.

Delaware County has maintained an electronic monitoring program since 1999 but “never used it on a family court youth,” Glueckert said, claiming without citing a source that “statistics show 60 to 70% of youth cut them off and run — it doesn’t stop them.”

Within 48 hours of fitting Youth No. 2 with the monitor, Glueckert said the officers responsible for managing the monitoring program reported a “strap alert,” meaning that the device had been removed or tampered with. The youth was found with third-degree burns on his leg after the device exploded as the result of him hacking at its lithium battery with garden shears, Glueckert said.

As the ordeal came to a close and both youths were remanded to detention facilities, Glueckert said he sent Scuderi-Hunter an email expressing his contempt for her actions and accusing her of “undermining my department and the position we took.”

“I can’t work with someone who’s going to undermine my authority in that manner,” Glueckert said. “This is just an example of someone who doesn’t want to work with you, but wants you to work for them.”

Dunn maintained his client “has done nothing wrong,” adding that “she’s got a record she’s justifiably proud of, and her staff supports her overwhelmingly.”

The hearing is scheduled to resume Monday, Sept. 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the Delaware County Public Safety Building in Delhi.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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