By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
UNADILLA – Things had been going so well.
Until the weekend, Otsego County had not had a positive COVID-19 case in more than three weeks.
Then on Friday, May 22, the county announced that an individual who attended a Unadilla Livestock Auction had later tested positive for the virus.
The individual, who is not a resident of this county, had been at a May 16 auction
from 1:30 to 9:30 p.m. and was not wearing a mask, according the Otsego County Health Department. There were about 150 others present.
“I think this is why the governor issued the executive order,” said county Health Director Heidi Bond. “To reduce the density of people.”
The livestock auction falls under the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, the auction was not covered by Governor Cuomo’s order that gatherings be limited to less than 10 people, Bond said.
“From what I understand they didn’t have social distancing in place,” she said. “There was crowding and people were standing within 6 feet of each other without a mask.”
The county Health Department issued an alert Friday warning local residents who may have been there to monitor themselves for symptoms.
So far, only one person has reported symptoms, but the test is not back yet, Bond said.
Also, in the past five days, two additional positive cases were reported. Neither was related to the auction, Bond said. Both individuals likely contracted the disease in a healthcare setting outside the county, one as an employee and the other as a patient, she said.
The Health Department is working with the auction house to better protect those who attend.
Bond also stressed the importance of personal responsibility as county residents work to avoid the virus and prevent others from getting infected.
“We all have to take personal responsibility,” she said. “If we don’t like what is going on at a business then don’t go there.”
She also said people who feel ill should make a point of not going out in public.
The case at the auction is a scenario that could have led to a cluster of cases locally, and because people come from other areas to attend the auction it could have led to a spread. So far, however, Bond is not aware of any cases in other counties that might be related.
The two week incubation period will be up May 30, and most people start to show symptoms within seven days, so she is hopeful that the region dodged a bullet, she said.
Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said he had a complaint about the fact that the auction was still operating several weeks ago, but determined that they were deemed an essential business and pointed to state Ag & Markets.
“The governor’s made all these stipulations to put it back on local law enforcement, but no tools to deal with it,” he said.
Devlin said he had never been to the auction house and could not say whether it was large enough that 150 people could achieve proper social distancing while there.
MIDDLEFIELD – Otsego County Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, is organizing at “Repeal Bail Reform” Rally at 10:30 a.m. this Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Otsego County Correctional Facility, next to the county’s Meadows Office Building in the Town of Middlefield.
In addition to state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, attendees include three other assemblyman, including Chris Tague and Brian Miller, who represent parts of Otsego County; four county sheriffs, including Richard J. Devlin Jr.; two district attorneys, including Otsego’s John Muehl, and county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, who is running for state Senate to succeed the retiring Seward.
Editor’s Note: With New York State’s judicial reforms going into effect Jan. 1, Otsego County judicial and law enforcement leaders have been expressing concerns about possible negative impacts locally. This article, on severely reducing the number of crimes that allow suspects to be held on bail, is the first of three articles.
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr. recognized that criminal justice reform was needed, but with new bail reforms looming, he fears the state may have gone too far.
“This is going to put criminals back on the streets and take police off the streets while they do paperwork,” he said. “It wasn’t well thought through, and law enforcement wasn’t consulted.”
The bail reform, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, eliminates bail and remand for all but a limited group of “qualifying offenses,” including some violent felony offenses, sex offenses, criminal contempt with domestic violence and witness tampering or intimidation.
And when bail is allowed, financial circumstances and the ability to secure a bond must be considered. A judge can order that Least Restrictive Non-Monetary Conditions can be imposed, including restrictions on travel and weapons possession or electronic monitoring.
But several felonies – criminally negligent homicide, possession of a gun on school grounds and assault among them – are not qualifying offenses and would not be subject to bail.
For example, Kimberly Steeley, who is charged with smothering her infant twins Bonde and Liam, was charged with two counts manslaughter in the second degree in May, and released on $100,000 bond. Under new bail reform, no such bail would have been set, as manslaughter in the second degree is not a qualifying offense.
In addition to qualifying offenses, bail can be set if a defendant doesn’t show for court dates or commits additional crimes while awaiting trial.
Each county will be required to have a Pre-Trial Service Agency, either in-house or on contract, to monitor defendants and notify them of their court dates. “They’ll have to hold their hands,” said Christopher DiDonna, assistant district attorney. “It’s their responsibility to make sure the defendant shows up.”
Devlin also worries that the new standards will have a negative consequences for people who are struggling with drug addictions. “Sometimes jail is needed,” he said. “When we arrest someone who has a drug problem, we try to get them help. If there are no ramifications, they might not seek that help themselves.”
And with new standards for arrests – all evidence must be turned over to the prosecution within 15 days of arraignment – Devlin fears that many criminals will remain free while lab tests hold up their formal arrest.
“If someone drives drunk and kills someone, we can’t arrest them until the lab results come back,” he said. “That could be six months, and meanwhile, they’re out there. It’s going to mean more open cases with no arrests for us.”
And if someone who has been arrested, but not held on remand or bail, decides to skip court dates, it’s up to Devlin to determine whether or not to track them down.
“If someone flees, we have to go get them,” he said. “We have to decide if they’re worth the money.”
However, Devlin does not see bail reform having a long-term impact on the Otsego County Jail, which is currently undergoing repairs after a series of leaks rendered it uninhabitable.
Though repairs are underway, Devlin is still preparing to ask the county to budget funds for a new jail. “Corrections has changed since our jail was built,” he said. “There’s no way to fix it to those standards. We need a new jail.”
Based on states like New Jersey, which had also implemented bail reform, Devlin expects a short-term drop in inmates of around 40 percent.
“But when people are remanded for not showing up, or they are sentenced, we expect to see the population rebound,” he said. “But the ones that will be there, they’re not the best behaved people.”
“Criminal justice needed to be discussed,” he said. “But we slid the other way, and that worries me.”
NEXT WEEK: Justice Reform and discovery requirements.
With another 9-13 inches due to fall on Otsego County by midnight, manager Angie Paterno, above, did a first round of shoveling this morning in front of Pratt’s Hotel, Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, while Rich Busse, inset was similarly engaged in front of his Main Street stores, Christmas Around The Corner and the Silver Fox gift shop, although customers were staying close to home due to Winter Storm Ezekiel, which slowed traffic and closed airports around the region after arriving at midday Sunday. In Oneonta, Southside Mall is opening at noon. At Otsego County 911, Director Rob O’Brien reports 30 accidents or stuck vehicles since noon Sunday, but nothing serious.
ONEONTA – The 23-year-old killed upon crashing his car head-on into Deputy Sheriff Jim Mateunas’ cruiser in Springfield Center Tuesday afternoon likely did it deliberately, BCI Capt. Scott Heggelke, Troop C, said this afternoon at a joint press conference with Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr.
Matthew E. All had led state police on a high-speed chase, which ended at the intersection of 20 and 80 when his Buick LaCrosse collided with the sheriff’s 2017 Chevy Tacoma with Mateunas inside. The impact was so great it sent the cruiser flying at least 200 feet.
OTEGO – Despite the final outcome, county sheriff candidate Bob Fernandez gave thanks all around for a hard-fought campaign that came to an end yesterday afternoon.
“I was honored to have the chance to run for sheriff in Otsego County and I would like to thank all of the bipartisan support for our campaign,” he said in an e-mail. “I also would like to thank the campaign team itself … (and) the Democratic committee, which allowed me to run on their line.”
COOPERSTOWN – With candidate Bob Fernandez unwilling to concede, the outcome of the Otsego County sheriff’s race will be uncertain until Nov. 16, a week from tomorrow, according to the county Board of Elections.
Lori Lehenbauer, the Republican commissioner, said the canvassing – the tallying of absentee and affidavit ballots – will begin next Wednesday, the 14th, on about 1,500 of the 1,949 absentee ballots sent out and 319 affidavit ballots cast day-of at polling places around Otsego County.
ONEONTA – Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. isn’t waiting for his challenger, Bob Fernandez, to come around.
“We are very confident, we are declaring victory,” the incumbent Devlin declared after Fernandez, a retired state trooper and registered Republican who is running as a Democrat, declined to concede the hard-fought race.
Dave Bliss, Republican chair of the Otsego County Board and a Rotarian, pours coffee for state Sen. – and candidate – Jim Seward, R-Milford, a few minutes ago at the traditional Cooperstown Rotary Club Election Day pancake breakfast at the Vets’ Club. With the senator are, from his left, daughter-in-law of two months Kelly Ann, daughter Lauren, wife Cindy and son Ryan. Seward is being challenged today by Democrat Joyce St. George, Margaretville area. Inset, Democratic kingmaker Richard Sternberg joined the Republican table that includes, at left, county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr. and County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner; at right is Republican County Chair Vince Casale, who is also a top adviser to Republican Marc Molinaro’s campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Devlin is being challenged by Republican Bob Fernandez, a retired state trooper who appears on the Democrat line. Sinnott Gardner is unopposed. “I like these people,” said Sternberg. The polls are open across Otsego County until 9 p.m. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
ONEONTA – The county Democratic Party chair this morning issued a statement confirming that Republican Bob Fernandez has indeed been endorsed by the Democratic county committee in this Tuesday’s election.
The new chair, Aimee Swann, said there has been some confusion in this regard.