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News of Otsego County

Oneonta Police

Largest OPD Class Sworn In At Park

NEXT STOP, POLICE ACADEMY

Largest OPD Class

Sworn In At Park

Oneonta Police Chief Chris Witzenberg, left, and Mayor Gary Herzig flank the latest class of OPD officers – at seven, the largest on record – that were sworn in this morning at Neahwa Park, in recognition of social-distancing concerns.  From left are Michael Angellotti, Christian Cooper, Bryce Kohout, Michael Pedulla II, Carson Pochkar, Thomas Steinberg and Karolina Stypulkowsi.  The seven begin their studies this Thursday at the Broome County Police Academy, and will join the local police force in six months.  (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Repeat Offenders Have Oneonta On Edge

Repeat Offenders

Have Oneonta On Edge

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – For Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, the recent slate of thefts from unlocked cars are more than just petty crimes.

They’re a stress on the Oneonta community as a whole.

“These aren’t huge larcenies, but they create a more hyper-sensitive community,” he said. “You have to remember to lock your car, your house, you might be more sensitive to when your dog barks.”

On Sept. 18, Oneonta Police arrested Keegan Allen, 22, a homeless man, following a report that someone had been rifling through cars on Hudson Street. Allen was located near the scene and, according to police, allegedly admitted to going through the cars.

And it wasn’t the first time.

According to Brenner, Allen also was arrested on July 31 for criminal possession of a controlled substance, on Aug. 12 for taking items from a vehicle, and on Aug. 20 for shoplifting, and was issued an appearance ticket for each.

“It’s sad,” said Brenner. “The base problem is substance abuse, and we can’t get him the help he needs.”

Under bail reform, bail cannot be set for such misdemeanors, even as they stack up, freeing the suspect to continue breaking the law.

“It’s a destructive cycle,” said Brenner. “Previously, a judge would have the discretion to look at him after his third time being arrested and say, ‘What’s really going on here?’ “He could send him to jail, where he might have access to services for mental health and substance abuse. A lot of time, jail is their first connection to things like medication or counseling, but it’s hard to help them find help without pushing them in.”

Allen was charged with petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and criminal possession of a controlled substance after he was allegedly found with a small amount of marijuana and prescription pills taken from one of the cars.

Once again, he was ticketed and released.

The same week, police also arrested Eric Meade, 26, after an investigation revealed that he had allegedly stolen a checkbook from a car and used it to forge a check.

Meade was also arrested by State Police for a similar crime in the Town of Oneonta after he allegedly went through unlocked cars, stealing change. Like Allen, he was issued a ticket and released.

Brenner said that since August, there have been 26 instances of items taken from unlocked cars in the city. “These are always crimes of opportunity,” he said. “Most of these guys are struggling with issues of mental illness or substance abuse.”

In addition to the rise in break-ins, Brenner said that, since March, police have seen a vast increase in heroin overdoses – so many, he said, that they had to order another box of Narcan.

“Last year we had one or two,” he said. “Since March, we’ve had 13. It’s sad, but it’s not unique. This is a national trend. It might be difficult for people to get quality services when they can’t meet in person.”

“We’ve seen a lot of people trying to connect to resources and care,” said Kyle LeFevre, Peer Services Coordinator, Friends of Recovery of Delaware-Otsego. “It’s difficult, but not impossible.”

Telehealth – offering counseling by phone or video chat – has also helped connect people with resources who might not feel comfortable attending an in-person meeting.

“There’s always someone out there who is going to need help,” he said.

Brenner said that police are trained to offer connections to mental health and substance abuse services when applicable.

“Most of the time, when we bring these guys in, they’re either suffering from the effects or they’re just coming off of them,” he said. “We can tell the court to refer them to services and try to help them, but sentencing could be weeks away – how many more break-ins can be done in that time? How many more substances can be abused?”

Oneonta Police: Two Arrested For Stealing From Cars

CARS RIFLED THROUGH IN CITY

Homeless Man Arrested

For 4th Time Since July 31

Chief: Drug Abuse At Root; No Help Available

ONEONTA – Oneonta Police report arresting a second homeless man for stealing items from unlocked cars over the past week, and it’s the fourth time the suspect was arrested  two months.

Keegan Allen, 22, homeless, was arrested following a report that someone had been rifling through cars on Hudson Street. Allen was located near the scene and admitted to going into cars and taking items, police said.

According to Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, Allen also was arrested on July 31 for criminal possession of a controlled substance, on Aug. 12 for taking items from a vehicle, and on Aug. 20 for shoplifting, and was issued an appearance ticket for each.

“It’s sad,” said Brenner. “The base problem is substance abuse, and we can’t get him the help he needs.”

With COVID Outbreak, Oneonta ‘A Ghost Town’

With COVID Outbreak,

Oneonta ‘A Ghost Town’

In 23 years, OPD Lieutenant Witzenberg had never seen Main Street so deserted on a Saturday night. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – In 23 years with the Oneonta Police Department, Lt. Christopher J. Witzenburg
had never seen a Saturday night like Aug. 29.

“It’s never been this quiet,” he said. “It’s a real departure from last weekend, where we just had a ton of house parties. It’s like a switch flipped.”

With more than 200 students sickened with COVID-19 following “several large parties” last weekend, SUNY Oneonta issued threats of suspension and Mayor Gary Herzig had strong warnings to try and quell the outbreak.

The Red Jug, a popular pub with college students, was closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. There were no lines of waiting customers outside other bars on Main and Water streets.
According to Police Chief Doug Brenner, two tickets were issued for noise complaints on Friday evening Aug. 28. “They seemed surprised when we showed up,” he said.

“We show up, ask people politely to leave and then refer them to the college,” said Witzenburg. “We’re trying to do things differently, but still hold people accountable.”

Students ticketed are then referred to the college’s disciplinary system. So far five students have been placed on an interim suspension and three organizations have been suspended for the remainder of the academic year.

“The college has been taking swift action on suspending students who host these parties,” said Brenner. “I think by Saturday, the word had gotten around and tempered a lot of the student activity.”

On Saturday, the few students who were downtown, Witzenburg noted, were mostly masked.
“It’s a ghost town,” said Mayor Gary Herzig.

Herzig himself has been observing the streets since Weekend One, and found himself in a minor altercation when he came upon a group of young men, “acting rowdy.”

“They were not wearing masks,” said Herzig. “But they all split when they saw the cops pull up.”
City Hall’s “tip line” – established to report large gatherings and unmasked revelers – kept Witzenburg busy, following complaints of house parties throughout Center City.

There were less there than expected.

At one, five of the six people who were, as the call reported, throwing a “large party,” lived in the house. The sixth was a boyfriend of one of the residents.

At another, where loud music could be heard through the window, Witzenburg observed three people playing beer pong in the living room.

“Every single one of the calls was unfounded,” he said. “We showed up to one large party and it was four people.”

Students face suspension if they are found to be in violation of the school’s COVID code of conduct. Following Weekend One’s reports of partying, one sorority has been suspended and Greek Rush Week cancelled.

“Usually by now, we’ve got a predictable rhythm,” said Witzenburg. “You know which bars are going to be a problem, you know where the party houses are, you develop strategies to maintain some semblance of order. But this year, everything has stopped. There’s no way to reasonably predict where a party will pop up.”

He drove past a house with a “Happy Hour” sign lit up in the window. There were colored party lights on, but he couldn’t see anyone inside.

“I keep saying it,” he said. “But it really is surreal.”

Juvenile Arrested In Tire-Damage Spree

Juvenile Arrested

In Tire-Damage Spree

ONEONTA – One juvenile was arrested and a second is awaiting charges following 29 incidents where car tires were punctured and other personal property items were damaged last week in Oneonta’s East End.

In all, the juvenile, whose name was not released because of their age, was charged with 23 misdemeanors and six felonies after they allegedly slashed and punctured the tires of more than 20 vehicles on Fair Street, Hudson Street, Belmont Circle, North Belmont Circle, Forest Avenue and Rose Avenue.

20 Tires Punctured Overnight In Oneonta

20 Tires Punctured

Overnight In Oneonta

ONEONTA – Oneonta Police are seeking the suspects in more than 20 incidents of tires punctured overnight in Oneonta’s East End.

“We started getting calls at 10 a.m. this morning,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner. “And we’ve been collecting statements all day.”

Police: Man Falsely Accused Man Of Having Handgun
Told Officers ‘Shoot Out’ Imminent; No Weapons Found

Police: Man Falsely Accused

Man Of Brandishing Handgun

ONEONTA – An Oneonta man was arrested after he allegedly made a series of calls to the Oneonta Police Department, falsely accusing neighbors of being “involved in a drug deal” and brandishing a handgun.

According to Police Chief Doug Brenner, Thomas E. Harker, 64, Oneonta, allegedly called the Oneonta Police department yesterday afternoon, first to report an alleged drug deal, then made a second call, where he allegedly told police he witnessed one of the two men pull out a handgun.

“He told officers there was going to be ‘a shoot-out’,” said Brenner.

OPD Chief Reports: 4 ODs In 48 Hours

NO DEATHS; HEROIN MAY BE TAINTED

OPD Chief Reports

4 ODs In 48 Hours

Beware Of ‘Bad Batch,’ Brenner Says

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Oneonta Police have been called to four heroin overdoses in the last 48 hours, prompting fears that a “bad batch” may be on the streets, according to Police Chief Doug Brenner.

“Each time, our officers had to use both of their Narcan kits to revive the person,” said Brenner. “That tells us that it’s a heavy overdose, possibly tainted with fentanyl.”

Oneonta Man Arrested After Robbery Spree

Oneonta Man Arrested

After Robbery Spree

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Brian Ruple, 41, Oneonta, was arrested and charged with robbing four gas stations in the early-morning hours of Friday, April 24.

ONEONTA – Following four gas station robberies, including one where a clerk was stabbed, an Oneonta man has been arrested and charged in the five-hour spree across Oneonta and Otego overnight and into Friday morning.

“I called Mayor Herzig after we made the arrest,” said Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner. “I told him, ‘we got him, you can sleep well tonight’.”

Bryan Ruple, 41, Oneonta, was arrested last night, both by City of Oneonta police and State Police Troop C.

According to Brenner, Ruple’s first attempt was at the Kwik Fill, where he allegedly attempted to grab cash out of an open register drawer. The clerk slammed Ruple’s hand in the drawer to stop him, and Ruple allegedly stabbed him with a small knife before fleeing the store without any money.

Suspect Sought In 4 Stick-Ups At Quick-Stops

INCIDENTS IN ONEONTA, OTEGO

Suspect Sought

In 4 Stick-Ups

At Quick-Stops

In One Case, Clerk Stabbed In Hand

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

State Police released this surveillance photo of a man wanted for questioning in a series of gas station robberies in Oneonta and Otego early this morning.

ONEONTA – Four gas-station robberies were reported between 1:20 a.m. and 6:20 a.m. today in the city and town of Oneonta, and in Otego, city police and state troopers report.

In one case, the clerk was stabbed in the hand; in at least two of the other cases, the suspect said he was armed, but didn’t show a weapon,  police said.

According to a release from the Oneonta Police Department, the spree began at 1:20 a.m., when officers were called to the Kwik Fill convenience store, 66 Chestnut St., for a reported attempted robbery.

“The clerk told us the man purchased a snack, and when the register was open, he tried to grab the money,” said Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner.

Birthday Party Cancelled? Have A Parade Instead!

Birthday Party Cancelled?

Have A Parade Instead!

There was lots of hooting, hollering and horn-blowing on Elm Street in Oneonta this afternoon as 13 cars filled with friends, family, teachers and classmates, all dressed in costumes with signs and decorations, were escorted by Oneonta police in a birthday parade for Zoey Tonner, who turned 7 today. “The invitations were ready, the treat bags were all made, then everything shut down,” explained her mother Danielle. “We had to cancel her party because of social distancing, so this is her coronavirus substitute!” The party was held at the home of Zoey’s babysitter Sarah Baden, where Zoey, seen at right with brother Rob and Dad “Fish”, waved to passersby from the lawn and porch, which were covered in decorations. As the parade passed by, Zoey took pictures with her camera as people hopped out to wish her “Happy Birthday” and leave presents and cards in a basket by the curb. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com

 

Lettis Highway Accident Victim Identified

Lettis Highway Accident

Victim Identified, In ICU

ONEONTA – Oneonta Police have identified the woman struck by a car last night on the Lettis Highway as April Johnson, 32, Oneonta.

Johnson allegedly crossed the highway in an area not marked for pedestrians and was struck by a car driven by David Shafer, 41, Otsego. She was taken by ambulance to Fox Hospital and transferred to Albany Medical Center, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit.

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