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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Removal Appropriate for Catskills Mayor’s Gaffes

(CN) - The mayor of a Catskills, N.Y., hamlet, who leaned on his title to get out of a drunken driving arrest and peddled knockoff Nikes must leave office, an appeals court ruled.

Four residents of Monticello, the seat of Sullivan County 90 miles northwest of New York City, had initiated the action against mayor and village manager Gordon Jenkins, seeking to have the man removed for a host of legal missteps, including making threats to cops after his 2013 arrest for driving while intoxicated.

Jenkins was convicted for selling counterfeit Nike shoes at his store in the former "Borscht Belt" summer retreat, and footage of his expletive-laced tirade at a police station went viral, getting 90,000 hits on YouTube.

With a court-appointed referee recommending removal, the Appellate Division's Third Judicial Department agreed on April 2 that such relief is warranted.

The circuit noted that when the issue was first before them, evidence existed that "would demonstrate a sufficiently serious pattern of abuse of authority and misbehavior to warrant his removal."

"When this matter was previously before this court, we found that certain allegations against [Jenkins], if proven, would demonstrate a sufficiently serious pattern of abuse of authority and misbehavior to warrant his removal," Presiding Justice Karen Peters wrote for the court, joined by Justices John Lahtinen, Elizabeth Garry and Gerard Lynch.

Residents said Jenkins had refused to fund the village police department unless criminal charges against him were "resolved," according to the seven-page decision.

"It bears noting that the evidence did not establish that respondent actually withheld funds from the police department," Peters wrote.

"Although the record reveals that the police department did lack funding for certain necessary services - including a functioning heating system in the police station - the testimony indicated that such funding decisions were typically made by the Village Board of Trustees as a whole rather than by respondent alone, and that the funds may have been unavailable for budgetary rather than coercive reasons," she added.

Even though Jenkins did not act on his threat wasn't executed, it remains an evident violation of abused power, according to the ruling

"Even if the threat was not ultimately carried out, we find that [Jenkin's] attempt to influence the disposition of criminal charges against him by threatening to use his public office to withhold municipal funding constituted a clear abuse of authority," Peters wrote.

A November 2013 surveillance video shows that during his overnight arrest and stay at the police station, Jenkins "went on a lengthy tirade" in which he "reminded police officers that they worked for him, threatened that he would 'do something tomorrow' about their treatment of him, repeatedly warned that they would be suspended or would suffer from negative repercussions for detaining him, directed dozens of obscene remarks and racist insults at the officers, and repeatedly attempted to persuade one of the officers to place his personal loyalties above his job duties in respondent's favors," the ruling states.

Officers testified that Jenkins told them they were "insubordinate" and would no longer get overtime pay. He also allegedly told them, "You guys will pay for this," "I hired you" and "What goes around comes around," according to the ruling.

Though he did not deny making the remarks, Jenkins argued that his arrest was fueled by tensions with the police department, the court found.

The video shows the mayor trying to sleep on the floor while handcuffed to the wall, but officers said they cuffed Jenkins because of his "angry outbursts" and refusal to cooperate. They said Jenkins couldn't be taken to a cell because the station lacked heat.

Jenkins was also taken to the hospital after complaining of heart palpitations during his incarceration, according to the ruling.

"Considering the length of his detention in highly uncomfortable circumstances, some degree of anger and frustration on respondent's part is understandable," Peters said. "Nevertheless, the video reveals that many of his objectionable remarks were made shortly after his arrival at the police station."

Jenkins claimed he was arrested over "partisan discord," but the judges noted that he pleaded guilty to the charges.

"We agree that the unrebutted evidence establishes that respondent attempted to use his public office to intimidate and coerce the officers into giving him special treatment, and that such conduct constitutes self-dealing and an abuse of authority," they wrote.

The court also made mention of how the mayor had previously awarded a "suspiciously low" no-bid contract to a firm to demolish an asbestos-ridden courthouse. It also pointed out testimony from a village trustee who said the building was demolished in 2013 and illegally dumped in a nearby town without the board's authority.

The trustee said the demolition cost only $5,000, but ultimately cost the village $90,000 to clean up the demolition and dumping sites, the judges said.

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