A Herkimer village police officer who threatened to kill his former wife earlier this year was allowed to remain on duty with his service weapon until his criminal charge was resolved, officials said Monday.
Officer Torrey Sitterly was charged Jan. 17 with second-degree aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor, after he made 19 menacing phone calls within a 20-minute time span to his former wife, Kelly Stalter, of Cooperstown, state police said.
Stalter is a state trooper with Troop C based in Oneonta.
During that series of phone calls, the 31-year-old Sitterly threatened to physically harm Stalter, 29, and her boyfriend, police said. In addition to the misdemeanor charge, a temporary order of protection was also imposed for Sitterly to stay away from Stalter.
State police investigated the case. When Sitterly was charged, however, state police did not issue a press release.
Otsego County prosecutors ultimately adjourned the charge in contemplation of dismissal on Feb. 18 in Oneonta Town Court, which means the charge would be dropped in a year if Sitterly does not break any laws. The order of protection also was dropped last month.
Stalter said she hasn’t had any problems with Sitterly since the arrest, even while she occasionally encounters him during Family Court proceedings.
“I do feel safer now,” Stalter said. “This was just my way of saying I’m not going to allow this to go on anymore, and that he can’t be saying these things or making these kinds of threats.”
Sitterly could not be reached for comment Monday.
While the case was pending, Herkimer Village Police Chief Joseph Malone said he believed there was no need to suspend Sitterly, reassign him to other duties, or prohibit him from carrying a weapon on the job.
Instead, Sitterly was required to secure his firearm at the department while he was off-duty to comply with the order of protection, Malone said Monday.
“Obviously, if we felt there was any kind of threat we would have taken other action,” Malone said, who previously discussed the matter with the village’s Albany-based labor attorney, Bryan Goldberger. “We felt there was no need for any type of action, just based on the circumstances and what I know about it.”
Goldberger could not be reached Monday.
Sitterly, one of the department’s 21 full-time officers, has been with Herkimer Police for three years and previously was employed by the Fort Plain Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
Stalter on Monday declined to elaborate on the details of what happened with Sitterly because they have a child together. Their divorce was finalized in August, but they still have matters pending in Family Court, she said.
“Both agencies – state police and the village of Herkimer police – acted in the best manner they could,” said Stalter, whose own Troop C investigated the incident. “They were professional, and both agencies were more than willing to help me with whatever it was that I needed.”
News of Sitterly’s threats drew comparisons to a more serious domestic incident involving a police officer that occurred less four months earlier. In September, Utica police Investigator Joseph Longo Jr. stabbed his wife, Kristin, to death before killing himself shortly after the couple began divorce proceedings.
Now, the Utica Police Department faces a potential lawsuit alleging that it failed to do enough to prevent Longo from killing his wife after she repeatedly expressed concerns about Longo’s mental state. In Longo’s case, however, the department did take away his firearms and reassigned his duties.
Eugene O'Donnell, professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York City police officer, said it would be unfair to question Malone’s judgment without knowing how immediate the threat really was.
“You have to be careful as a police chief not to rush to judgment,” O’Donnell said. “If there’s going to be a perception that the chief’s kneejerk reaction is to immediately take adverse personnel action against an officer, then that could result in a collapse of morale at the agency. Punish first and inquire later is not fair, and it’s not the right way to do things.”
Sitterly is the latest among a series of Herkimer police officers to find themselves in trouble with the law:
* Investigator Robert Risi, 42, currently is serving 1 to 3 years in state prison after he admitted to stealing nearly $16,000 from the Herkimer Police Department’s evidence room to fuel his gambling addiction.
* Officer Shauna Wright, 40, was charged by state police with second-degree harassment, a violation, in May 2009 following a confrontation with her sister-in-law, Heather Wright, in the parking lot at West Canada High School. Shauna Wright was ticketed to appear in Newport Town Court, but the outcome of that case could not be determined Monday.
Malone acknowledged these incidents involving the three officers have placed a dark cloud over the department.
“Do we suffer a black eye for a while? Yes, but you retain your professionalism and move on,” Malone said. “Everyone has problems in their lives, and we’re obviously held to a higher standard in the public’s eye, so it becomes more of an issue than the people we deal with on a daily basis with these same issues that aren’t police officers.”