DA Galligan Working On Pilot Program To Allow Drug Offenders To Go Directly Into Treatment
MONTICELLO - District Attorney Meagan Galligan today announced that she is working on implementing a pilot program that would allow local law enforcement officers to immediately divert substance abuse offenders into drug treatment programs. In cases like that, she said an arrest could “be held in abeyance pending their meaningful participation in the program.”
She said that the state’s new bail reform law doesn’t help drug offenders who desperately need treatment.
Her comments were made this morning at the regular meeting of the County Legislature’s Public Safety and Law Enforcement Committee.
Galligan also wants the County to hire a dedicated investigator for her office who would focus exclusively on the opioid crisis, including undercover purchases. “If we can bring on an investigator to be a member of the (Opioid) Task Force, this will have a tremendous impact,” she said.
Galligan said that she learned from attending a New York State District Attorneys Association conference recently that the supply of Fentanyl has increased across the state in recent months. She added that the County's proximity to Route 17 makes it easy for drug dealers to spread their product across the region and further upstate.
Highlighting the problem locally, the County Coroner’s Office reported today that 27 percent of all deaths in Sullivan County in the past month were due to overdoses.
Sullivan County could get some help fighting the opioid crisis, thanks to a nationwide settlement announced today by New York Attorney General Letitia James. New York is set to receive $32 million for opioid abatement, under the terms of the settlement. It's unclear at press time how much of that will flow to Sullivan.
Galligan said that she’s proud that, while in many other parts of the state have experienced an “exodus” of Assistant District Attorneys, her office has not lost anyone since she assumed office a little more than one year ago. And because the salaries for ADA’s in Sullivan are considerably lower than other counties - especially those downstate - Galligan said that she has reached into her own pocket to help pay for her ADA’s Continuing Legal Education as well as their attorney registration fees with New York State.
At the same meeting today, Undersheriff Eric Chaboty told the Legislature that they need more deputies in the new jail but did not specify a number. There are currently 104 inmates in the facility, he said. But a report published in December by the Vera Institute of Justice said that Sullivan spends too much money on jail staff in proportion to its inmate population.
He also said that the new jail “has been Covid-free” since the day it opened. However, The SullivanTimes previously reported that there were still Covid-positive patients during the transfer of 68 inmates from the old jail to the new jail on June 5, 2020. For example, as of May 18, 2020, there were 30 Covid-19 cases as announced by Chaboty. There has never been a documented report by Chaboty to show there were zero cases upon the transfer to the new facility.
During public comments, resident Sandra Oxford said she that the County has fallen short when it comes to police reform plans that are due to Albany by April 1. “These little vanity programs have to be more than that,” she said. “We have to be not flinching away from difficult conversations. We have a problem. We also have a white supremacy problem.”
Chaboty said that the Sheriff’s Office has held one meeting with Town Supervisors on police reform and was planning another meeting tonight - but no information has been shared with the public about that meeting. None of the legislators asked any questions of Chaboty about the Sheriff's Office reform plans but thanked him for his report.
Three other residents also made public comments during today’s meeting, all expressing outrage at the show of force used by the Sheriff’s Office at last Thursday's meetings of the County Legislature, in which there was heated discussion around an ethics complaint, the transfer of The Care Center at Sunset Lake, and Chair Rob Doherty’s surprise, last-minute handout of a resolution that would give the County the ability to cancel the contract of the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association.
Resident Lou Setren called on the Legislature to begin an investigation into who ordered so many sheriff’s deputies to the Government Center last Thursday and asked why Covid screening measures were not being done at the lobby entrance - since County Manager Josh Potosek said that the building had to be locked due to Covid-19 protocols.
Setren said that he was also told by Doherty that only people inside the hearing room that day would be allowed to make public comments and that others could email their comments. Setren expressed displeasure at that protocol, saying that people waiting down in the lobby could have cycled upstairs to make public comments and exchange places with those who already had done so if the County was so concerned about social distancing. He added that there was sufficient space in the hearing room last Thursday for people to socially distant without forcing some to wait outside in the cold.
Ken Walter said he learned that, despite Chaboty’s explanation that deputies were there for a swearing-in ceremony for new U.S. citizens, there was” a call put out for manpower needed at the Government Center.” Walter continued to lecture the Legislature about the use of law enforcement at legislative meetings.
“Do we need this police presence? Where’s the danger coming from? The front of the room or the back of the room? Stop wasting my money."
Near the end of the meeting Legislators Joe Perrello and Ira Steingart expressed disappointment with the way the County has handled obtaining such a small supply of vaccines. “We knew for months a vaccine was coming out, “Steingart said. “I’m disappointed. How could we have not been on top of our game more? “
County Manager Josh Potosek, at left, with Legislature Chair Rob Doherty at a 2020 meeting.