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Gouverneur stirred up over state police stops

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GOUVERNEUR — The community is buzzing about state police patrols descending on the village Wednesday to stop dozens of motorists for what some residents believe was a political end.

“I don’t know what to think,” Mayor Ronald P. McDougall said.

The activity was documented on the website Topix by dozens of anonymous posters who reported the village was crawling with troopers who issued multiple vehicle and traffic tickets. However, the online state police blotter showed few arrests in Gouverneur that night.

Maj. Richard C. Smith Jr. was unavailable for comment, and state police staff said he wanted to talk with Capt. Michael J. Gerard before he made a statement. Sgt. Scott A. Rogers directed all inquiries to the captain, who was not available until Monday.

Some Topix posters put their own spin on what happened.

“The state police officers were instructed by their bosses to give a message to the citizens of our village. They were told to pull over as many vehicles as they could and write as many tickets as they could for whatever reason because they are tired of having to respond to village complaints,” one person wrote. “The message was for the board ... hire more officers or we are going to continue to harass the people of Gouverneur.”

Another wrote: “I have several sources that were both directly and indirectly involved in ‘special assignment Gouverneur.’ Officers were reassigned from Massena and Canton to the village of Gouverneur. Fact: troopers were instructed to pull over every vehicle that they could for any reason ... whether reasonable or not ... Fact: They pulled over in excess of 80 vehicles in the village of Gouverneur. Fact: Management of the troopers have been complaining for awhile in law enforcement circles about having to respond to crimes and domestic calls in the village of Gouverneur. It is taking away from their revenue generating activities which they are held accountable for.”

The controversy over the state police presence in the village resulted in a craigslist post titled “NY State Police on Nov. 13 (Gouverneur)” asking for people who had been stopped and ticketed by state police to send in details about their run-ins with the authorities that night.

“The harassment crap has got to stop. Getting stopped is one thing, getting LECTURED is another,” the post said. “We know an inordinate amount of people were stopped last night, and it appears many of the citations issued were given incorrectly. The cops WILL take this down, but we will be sure to repost the next couple of days so that we can accumulate as much information as possible. Thank you.”

The person who created the post did not respond to an email.

Mr. McDougall said Police Chief Gordon F. Ayen Jr. and Sheriff Kevin M. Wells told him they were unaware the state police blanket coverage was planned. Chief Ayen and Sheriff Wells did not return calls.

The village police department has been short-staffed for some time, and more so in recent months.

On Sept. 4, the village Board of Trustees suspended with pay Officer Steven M. Young, who is also chief of Gouverneur Fire Department, pending the outcome of an investigation by state police. State police have refused to confirm Mr. Young is being investigated.

Capt. Robert S. LaFountain referred questions about Mr. Young’s suspension to the village.

“We don’t confirm or deny any investigation into any public officials,” he said. “We do that to avoid potential incrimination of individuals.”

Mr. Young is one of four officers — including another who is out on medical leave — a sergeant and the chief who make up the force.

Hiring additional officers is not in the budget of the village, which is fiscally stressed.

“That’s an understatement,” Mr. McDougall said.

The village deserves and needs a police force, he said.

“Whatever is feasible, we’re going to try and put the resources where they’re needed,” the mayor said.

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