In Co­hoes, foes’ clash con­tin­ues

Coun­cil­man al­leges choke threat by mayor

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Bren­dan J. Lyons

A Co­hoes coun­cil­man called 911 on Tues­day night and al­leged that Mayor Shawn M. Morse had threat­ened to choke him dur­ing a heated ar­gu­ment in front of City Hall.

Coun­cil­man Randy Ko­niowka said the con­fronta­tion took place fol­low­ing a con­tentious work­shop dur­ing which he ques­tioned whether it was a vi­o­la­tion of the city’s ethics code for the mayor’s step­daugh­ter to have a job with the parks depart­ment.

Ko­niowka told po­lice the mayor stood inches from his face dur­ing the ar­gu­ment and, at one point, also al­legedly threat­ened to have the coun­cil­man ar­rested for ear­lier com­ments he posted on Face­book about whether the em­ploy­ment of Morse’s “rel­a­tive” — whom Ko­niowka did not iden­tify in the post — amounted to nepo­tism.

“This isn’t a school­yard, this is City Hall,” Ko­niowka said when con­tacted Thurs­day. “No­body should be be­hav­ing that way, and cer­tainly not elected of­fi­cials in front of City Hall. We can have heated de­bate, but that’s where it has to end.”

Both Morse and a city res­i­dent who watched the ar­gu­ment, Ti­mothy Thi­bodeau, dis­puted the al­le­ga­tions by Ko­niowka and said that no threats were made.

“There was no in­ci­dent,” Morse said. “I don’t lie to any­body. I never said any­thing to Randy ex­cept ‘Leave my kid alone.’”

Thi­bodeau, who fol­lows City Hall mat­ters closely, said he did not wit­ness Morse threat­en­ing Ko­niowka with phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. He said city po­lice asked him for a state­ment on Wed­nes­day and he told them the same thing.

“The mayor never threat­ened him in any way, and that’s what I told the de­tec­tives,” Thi­bodeau said. “It never hap­pened.”

On Face­book posts, Thi­bodeau has been a harsh critic of

Ko­niowka, re­fer­ring to him in posts as a “Morse hater” and “loser.” In a post last month, Thi­bodeau sug­gested he wanted to start a pe­ti­tion to have the coun­cil­man step down.

Thi­bodeau said the ar­gu­ment Tues­day was also sparked by ques­tions that other city of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Morse, had raised dur­ing the work­shop about Ko­niowka’s re­cent visit to the city’s pool, where he had ques­tioned em­ploy­ees about staffing lev­els and al­le­ga­tions that non­res­i­dents were caus­ing prob­lems.

“I wanted to con­firm that with the pool di­rec­tor,” Ko­niowka said. “I in­tro­duced my­self to the kid (at the re­cep­tion desk) and I even gave him my ID, and I said I’d like to speak to the pool di­rec­tor. They’re spin­ning it like I went down there like I’m some kind of stalker.”

Ko­niowka told po­lice that dur­ing the ar­gu­ment Tues­day in front of City Hall, which took place around 8:15 p.m., he stood his ground as the mayor ap­proached and they came nose to nose. Ko­niowka al­leged that at one point dur­ing the ar­gu­ment, which lasted sev­eral min­utes, he asked Morse if he “had choked those women,” and that the mayor re­sponded, “Yes, and I’m go­ing to choke you, too.”

The coun­cil­man said his com­ments were in ref­er­ence to Morse’s wife, Brenda, call­ing 911 last Novem­ber and telling a dis­patcher that her hus­band had grabbed her by the neck and thrown her to the ground.

A month af­ter that in­ci­dent,

an ex-girl­friend of Morse’s told the Times Union that she had called Co­hoes po­lice sev­eral times in the 1990s and re­ported do­mes­tic abuse by Morse, in­clud­ing an in­ci­dent when she said he had grabbed her by the neck and lifted her off the ground. Morse was never ar­rested on those al­le­ga­tions.

Fol­low­ing the 911 call by Brenda Morse last year, Co­hoes po­lice ini­tially han­dled the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but turned the case over to State Po­lice when ques­tions were raised about a po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est. Capt. Todd Pucci, who went to the Morse res­i­dence af­ter the 911 call, is a close friend of the mayor’s. Morse is the city’s pub­lic safety com­mis­sioner and over­sees the po­lice depart­ment, in­clud­ing hir­ing and pro­mo­tional de­ci­sions.

Ko­niowka’s al­le­ga­tion that Morse threat­ened to have him ar­rested for his Face­book posts comes three months af­ter a judge threw out a ha­rass­ment charge against a city man who was ac­cused by Morse’s cousin, Bar­bara Bor­den, of send­ing her threat­en­ing and ha­rass­ing mes­sages on Face­book. The al­le­ga­tions, which led city po­lice to ob­tain a war­rant and ar­rest the man, Jef­frey Ba­gley, were later dis­proven.

Ba­gley, 52, has filed a claim against the city al­leg­ing his ar­rest was ret­ri­bu­tion for speak­ing out about prior do­mes­tic abuse al­le­ga­tions that have been lev­eled against Morse. Ba­gley, who is friends with Brenda Morse, al­leges she told him that Morse had dis­cussed Ba­gley’s ar­rest with city po­lice be­fore it took

place in Jan­uary.

Co­hoes po­lice have not re­ferred the al­le­ga­tions made by Ko­niowka to an­other agency. Ac­cord­ing to Thi­bodeau and Ko­niowka, the depart­ment se­cured footage from video surveil­lance cam­eras at City Hall that may have cap­tured the ar­gu­ment between the mayor and Ko­niowka. The cam­eras are not equipped with au­dio.

Ko­niowka said he took notes of what oc­curred right af­ter the ar­gu­ment. He said that an of­fi­cer who re­sponded to the 911 call di­rected him to walk to the po­lice sta­tion around the cor­ner. Even­tu­ally, Ko­niowka said, a sergeant in­formed him that they would not take his com­plaint and sug­gested he call Chief Wil­liam Hes­lin on Wed­nes­day.

As­sis­tant Chief Tom Ross met with Ko­niowka on Thurs­day. He said the depart­ment does not need to re­cuse it­self from in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­le­ga­tions.

“There is no case. There is no com­plaint,” Ross said. “There’s some in­quiry but I don’t even want to call the guy a com­plainant. This is not a do­mes­tic. … There was no po­lice on scene. This is two guys ar­gu­ing af­ter a Com­mon Coun­cil meet­ing, at best.”

Morse and his wife both were in­ter­viewed by State Po­lice in Novem­ber about her do­mes­tic abuse al­le­ga­tion in the 911 call. That in­ves­ti­ga­tion has lan­guished in the Al­bany County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice. Brenda Morse ini­tially co­op­er­ated in the probe but re­peat­edly can­celed meet­ings with in­ves­ti­ga­tors,

ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment sources briefed on the case.

Brenda Morse filed for di­vorce in Al­bany County Court last month, but last week the case was dis­con­tin­ued.

Shawn Morse, 50, was elected Co­hoes mayor in 2015. Be­fore be­com­ing mayor in the city where he grew up, he was chair­man of the Al­bany County Leg­is­la­ture and had been a Co­hoes fire­fighter since 1989.

He re­peat­edly blamed Ko­niowka’s al­le­ga­tions on what he de­scribed as a cal­cu­lated ef­fort by po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents to de­rail his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“This is a small group of po­lit­i­cal peo­ple who are try­ing to cap­i­tal­ize and gain off my fam­ily,” Morse said. “Randy Ko­niowka should be ashamed of him­self. … My fam­ily de­serves bet­ter than this. I’m work­ing 19 hours a day to be the mayor of the city and there’s a small group of peo­ple who are do­ing any­thing they can … to try to bring me down. That’s the dirty side of pol­i­tics.”

Ko­niowka, who is in the third year of his first term on the City Coun­cil, said he’s weigh­ing his op­tions but noted the hefti­est charge that could be filed against Morse for the al­le­ga­tions is mis­de­meanor ha­rass­ment.

“I hope that there can be some sort of me­di­a­tion to save the city from fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment and le­gal dif­fi­cul­ties,” Ko­niowka said, adding that he hopes to find a way “where the mayor and I can co­ex­ist with­out in­ci­dents like what hap­pened the other night.”

Morse

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