The lawyer representing a Jefferson County sheriffs deputy suing the department over the whereabouts of topless photos taken of her six years ago is calling for an independent investigation into the offices conduct an option that the sheriff said hed have no problem with.
The $50 million state Supreme Court lawsuit alleges that a male detective took topless photos of Deputy Krystal G. Rice for use in an online pedophile sting in 2006, and that the photos were never used and can no longer be accounted for.
We are still trying to get more specifics as to who knew what, and when, about the allegations and the complaint, said Charu Narang, the Sackets Harbor attorney representing Ms. Rice.
Sheriff John P. Burns, who is named as a defendant in the suit, said he could not comment on the case, but an investigation into the department is an option Im going to bring up to the county attorney.
The county Board of Legislators is expected to discuss the matter, including the option of an independent investigation, in executive session early next week.
Its not clear what agency would lead an outside inquiry. In 2006, the Commission of Investigation issued a scathing report in the wake of a shooting and kidnapping by a member of the Watertown Police Department, but the organization no longer exists. It was replaced by the states Commission on Public Integrity.
That organization no longer exists, either. It was replaced by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which began operating in 2011. Officials at the ethics commission did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, nor did the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The lawsuit could expose the fault line between the sheriffs office on one side and the countys administration and its Board of Legislators on the other.
Some county legislators believe that Mr. Burnss office is not responsive to the county administration.
Mr. Burns, an elected official, has chafed at attempts to bring additional scrutiny to his office, such as requests to outline how the sheriffs patrol staff was deployed.
The only control the legislators have is over the budget, Mr. Burns said.
Not so, said Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown.
Theres this belief out there that they can do what they want to, when they want to, Mr. Gray said. Thats not the case. We do have some responsibility for them, whether the sheriff likes that or not.
A case in point, Mr. Gray said, was the contract that was allegedly drawn up between Ms. Rice and the department that dictated how the topless photos would be used and stored. The document should have been reviewed by county administration, he said.
We have an attorney, Mr. Gray said. At minimum, it should go to (human resources), if not HR and our legal department.
Detective Steven C. Cote, who allegedly took the photographs of Ms. Rice, has been out on sick leave for a few months for a surgical procedure, Mr. Burns said. Mr. Cote also is a defendant in the case, as is Lt. Michael S. Peterson, a supervisor who Ms. Rice alleges approved the contract for the photographs. Mr. Peterson is on vacation and will return to work on Tuesday, Mr. Burns said.
On Thursday, Ms. Narang said she received a phone call from a man who said that if she didnt drop the lawsuit, she would put her law career in jeopardy and would be constantly pulled over by law enforcement while driving.
The county clerk also reportedly received a call on Thursday from a man who would not identify himself and who was making stern demands and asking questions about the case.
The president of the union representing sheriffs deputies in Jefferson County said Friday that he believed the Sheriffs Department didnt have anything to do with the phone calls.
This type of conduct is both morally reprehensible and criminal in nature and is in direct contrast of the oath we take. We will never betray our badge, our integrity, our character, or the public trust, said David J. Pustizzi, president of Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Benevolent Association Local 3928, in a letter to the media Friday.