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State police deny allegations of political agenda in Gouverneur’s Wednesday detail

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GOUVERNEUR — Dozens of drivers who were pulled over when a state police detail concentrated on Gouverneur last week were not caught up in any political message regarding village police staffing, a state police captain said Monday.

Community members posted more than 175 comments anonymously on the website Topix, some claiming that troopers were ordered to pull over and ticket as many drivers as they could. The comments contended that vehicles were stopped as a message to the understaffed village police force here that state police are tired of responding to village complaints, but State Police Capt. Michael J. Girard said that is untrue.

The presence of troopers in the village was nothing more than a roving traffic detail that moves from town to town and village to village, Capt. Girard said.

“Law enforcement use directed patrols to help detect and deter criminal activities. State police do both roving and stationary details all over the state,” Capt. Girard said. “The detail last Wednesday happened to take place in the village of Gouverneur, where state troopers have been tasked to patrol seven nights a week during the midnight shift. It’s not our business to get involved in the politics of a village, but it is our job to maintain public safety.”

Such patrols are done on a regular basis, the captain said, and troopers could be in Waddington, Hopkinton or Cranberry Lake in the coming weeks doing similar details.

State police issued 45 traffic tickets that night and also made arrests for felony driving while intoxicated, felony aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and marijuana possession, Capt. Girard said.

“I was there that night, and the last thing I said to them was make sure you have probable cause for anyone that gets pulled over, which I know they would anyways, and I didn’t hear any complaining from people,” Capt. Girard said.

The roving detail has not been done in the village of Gouverneur in the past year, which explains the reaction to the trooper’s increased presence last week, Capt. Girard said. He would not say how many additional troopers were assigned to last week’s detail, which occurred during the overnight hours when state police already have responsibility for patrolling the village.

However, the normal overnight patrol that troopers are tasked with covering seven nights a week is a direct result of understaffing on village police force, Capt. Girard said. It has been that way for two years, he said.

Staffing in the village police department has become tighter in recent months.

On Sept. 4, the village Board of Trustees suspended with pay Officer Steven M. Young, who is also chief of the Gouverneur Fire Department, pending the outcome of an investigation by state police. Mr. Young is one of six officers — including another who is out on medical leave — on the force, in addition to Chief Gordon F. Ayen Jr., a sergeant and two patrolmen.

Prior to Monday, state police refused to confirm that Mr. Young is being investigated. Capt. Girard said the investigation into Mr. Young had nothing to do with Wednesday night’s detail but said that concluding the investigation and having that position filled again would help to alleviate the pressures troopers are facing in the village.

Chief Ayen and Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said they were unaware the state police detail had been planned.

“I had no prior information and have had no conversation about it since the detail occurred,” Sheriff Wells said in an email. “This was a state police detail only.”

Chief Ayen said he had not spoken with anyone from the state police prior to or since Wednesday’s detail. “They don’t always coordinate,” he said. “Sometimes they are done from the state. It could be a grant that has been issued and they set aside a times when they conduct the details.”

The chief said there are times when village patrols are not available and outside law enforcement must patrol 50 to 60 hours a week.

“I just think the number of personnel that they had is what alarmed people,” Chief Ayen said of the detail. “Normally when a detail is going on, I try to involve my people as much as possible. Unfortunately, I had one patrolman on that night, and it is hard to dedicate that time to details when you are responding to other calls and complaints.”

“It’s something out of our control,” Capt. Girard said. “You can’t rush an investigation, but I know that Chief Gordy Ayen is doing everything he can do with the resources that he has.”

Capt. Girard said accusations that state police were ordered by Maj. Richard C. Smith to descend on the village and to pull everyone over and issue tickets “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“You have to remember that there were a lot of breaks given that night, too. Not everybody got a ticket,” Capt. Girard said. “So it’s not true. You get a handful of people that for some reason they don’t like law enforcement and they are going to mudsling.”

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