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March Mania

It has been a mad month for the Albany police

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on March 31, 2011

On March 12, the Albany Police Department subdued a riot when “kegs and eggs” house parties in Albany’s so-called student ghetto spilled onto the street. On March 18, the department charged its own spokesman, Detective Jim Miller, with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving without headlights and refusing to submit to a Breathalizer test. Both drew national media attention.

The motor vehicle stop occurred at about 9:30 PM at the intersection of Orange and North Pearl streets. Miller was driving an unmarked departmental Dodge Durango. He was pulled over because his headlights were off, police said.

“It’s difficult anytime I see someone’s life take a turn for the worse, whether it’s Jimmy Miller or Officer A, B or C,” APD Chief Steven Krokoff said. “We’ve had other officers charged with DWI. It wasn’t picked up nationally. I don’t understand why this received so much attention.”

The chief wouldn’t comment on the details of an ongoing internal investigation. Deputy Chief Stephen Reilly, who is filling in as the department’s press liaison following Miller’s arrest and suspension, said police are “conducting interviews” and “recovering evidence.”

Attempts to contact Miller on his cell phone failed; his message bin was full. However, he did e-mail local news agencies saying he regretted the negative publicity the arrest brought to his family, the police department and the people of Albany. He has conducted himself professionally for 19 years and intends to handle this matter the same way, it said.

Speaking in general terms, Miller’s attorney, Joseph Granich, said, “Any time a member of law enforcement is alleged to have broken the law it’s going to invoke what people commonly refer to as a double standard. Cops are human beings too—with the same weaknesses and frailties and opportunities to make mistakes in life. Do I think they should be held to a higher standard? In some cases, yes; in some cases no.”

Miller pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor on March 21. His next court date is a May 2 conference.

Asked whether his client would pursue a plea agreement, Granich said, “I can’t say I am or I’m not. We’re always interested in keeping any options open.”

Asked whether Miller might be allowed back on duty, Chief Krokoff declined comment. “The legal case will take its course,” Reilly said. “The internal administrative case will take its course. Based on that, the chief will have to make a decision on a penalty.”

As for the kegs-and-eggs incident, where UAlbany students caused a destructive melee in the student ghetto, Krokoff said he was “very pleased” with how his staff suppressed the spree.

“They were able to quell that quite quickly with no violence,” he said. “Some officers got hurt, but none of the students. It was a small, nonrepresentative group of students who felt like they could act like hooligans. . . . It was fortunate they decided they were going to capture their crimes on video for posterity.”

“Many people sent video to us,” Reilly said. “We were getting anonymous tips with links to various YouTube videos that had footage of this incident.”

Some 30 tickets requiring court appearances were issued on the scene for minor violations and, as of Tuesday, 20 arrests had been made, according to Reilly. Charges include: inciting rioting, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, criminal possession of a weapon, assault on a police officer, and unnecessary noise.

Ranging in age from 17 to 38, the defendants come mostly from downstate, said Albany County District Attorney David Soares. Ten of them face single or multiple felony charges, he said.

“We believe a statement needs to be made by the office, and what I believe the community’s looking for is very tough,” said Soares. “It’s graduated from quality-of-life to major crimes, and we’re treating it that way.”

Two prosecutors are handling the criminal cases. A third prosecutor is going after landlords via the same law used to evict drug dealers, Soares said.

“The property owners quite frankly have abandoned their responsibility,” he said. “We will notify property owners that there is activity going on in their properties and they need to evict the tenants. If they choose not to, we will step in, conduct the evictions, and bill the property owners, sometimes in the range of thousands of dollars.”

Police are “already preparing plans for next year for the [St. Patrick’s] parade day to ensure that this does not happen again,” Reilly said.