Lack of board apology spurs Crosier's suit

The Enterprise/Google Earth 
This map shows, in yellow, the roads that would have been designated ATV-friendly if the Berne Town Board had passed the ATV law in its proposed form. The law was officially tabled following strong community backlash.

BERNE — Since the Berne Town Board hasn’t offered the apology he requested, former Berne supervisor Kevin Crosier appears to be moving forward with a lawsuit against the town of Berne and the Albany County Sheriff’s Office following his dramatic removal from last month’s public hearing on a controversial ATV law. 

Crosier’s attorney, Jeff Baker, sent out letters last week to the town and sheriff’s office advising each to retain evidence that may be relevant in a lawsuit that Baker said will “likely commence” in the “near future.” 

The letters, dated March 10, specifically request that Sheriff Craig Apple, the two deputies who removed Crosier from the Feb. 20 hearing, and various town officials, including the entire town board, retain all electronically stored information, such as emails, voicemails, photos, texts, etc., along with any non-digital media starting from Jan. 1 for the town and Feb. 1 for the sheriff and his two deputies. 

“Failure to comply with this request could result in my client seeking sanctions, costs, attorney fees, and adverse inference jury instructions and any other remedies that may be available under law,” Baker wrote. 

The GOP-backed board had sheriff’s deputies escort Crosier, who is a Democrat, out of the hearing despite the fact that Crosier had not violated any rules, having hardly said anything at all. 

Through Baker, Crosier had threatened to sue the town for violating his freedom of speech if it did not issue a public apology; the board made no mention of the incident at its first meeting since the hearing, on March 8.  

Before he was removed, Crosier had said two sentences at the hearing on the ATV law, which would have allowed recreational vehicles to use town roads. 

He had thanked the board for the opportunity to speak, and then described the overall function of the town board before Supervisor Dennis Palow interrupted him to try to bring attention to a photo he had prepared on a monitor for the crowd to see that allegedly showed Crosier using a utility vehicle on a roadway. 

The apparent purpose was to try and portray Crosier as a hypocrite, since he had been critical of the law on social media.

Crosier acknowledged that the picture might be of him and asked a number of times if he could continue with his prepared comments before Palow, who told Crosier repeatedly to “sit down and be quiet,” asked sheriff’s deputies to remove him from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo auditorium where the hearing was being held, which they did to jeers from the audience. 

At no point during the incident or in the time leading up to it did Crosier break any meeting rules or behave in a disruptive or threatening way.

Later at the hearing, Palow and Deputy Supervisor Anita Clayton defended the decision by suggesting that they had personal grievances against Crosier. 

Palow, a Republican, said that Crosier, a Democrat, had done something similar when he was supervisor, while Clayton seemingly acknowledged that the removal “was prejudicial” because of Crosier’s criticisms of the board online. 

The only board member who commented about the removal when each of them was questioned by The Enterprise after the meeting was Councilman Thomas Doolin, who said that he did not believe Crosier did anything wrong prior to his removal, though noted he had trouble hearing because of the noise in the room during the incident. 

Baker, Crosier’s attorney, sent a letter to the town board dated Feb. 27, which also ran as a letter to the Enterprise editor, stating that the removal was a “gross violation of his civil rights.”

“It is only through an unequivocal apology and a commitment to never again engage in actions to infringe on citizens’ right to free speech that there can be an assurance that Berne residents need not fear speaking at public forums,” Baker wrote. “People must feel free to respectfully express their views without fear of being silenced and forcibly removed. That should be something on which all can agree.

“If, however, Mr. Palow and/or the town board are unwilling to make such an unequivocal apology and restate their commitment to the Constitution, Mr. Crosier will seriously consider bringing a federal civil-rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Such a lawsuit would be necessary to make it clear to all concerned that the town board’s actions that night were illegal and will not be condoned.”

 

ATV law

Possible civil-rights violations aside, the public hearing resulted in a win for town residents who were opposed to the ATV law in its current form, and whose criticisms the board cited as part of the reason it was tabling the law at its March 8 meeting. 

“Since this proposal, I have spoken to the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] and met with the sheriff’s department and read the letters sent to the board regarding the proposed law,” Councilman Albert Thiem said at the meeting. “Due to the many concerns about proposed ATV Local Law #2, I would like to make a motion to table this proposed ATV law.”

He received an immediate second from Councilman Doolin, who had told The Enterprise last month that he did not consider the law viable for the town, particularly because of the safety concerns. 

Doolin, a physician assistant, said that “having worked in the [emergency room] at St Peter's Hospital and Moses Ludington Hospital ER in the Adirondacks, I have seen the trauma that single-rider vehicles can cause.”

All four board members present voted in favor of Thiem’s motion, with Clayton unable to vote because of her absence.

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