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Syracuse Citizen Review Board sues police chief but fails to meet 60-day timeline to send complaints

Ellen Abbott
Citizen Review Board administrator Joseph Lipari in 2013.

The Citizen Review Board in Syracuse, which investigates complaints against police officers in the city, is suing police Chief Frank Fowler for not responding to four complaints. In October of 2015, Fowler said he did not respond because he did not receive the complaints within a 60-day period.

In the lawsuit against Fowler, the Review Board said that they told city Corporation Counsel back in 2012 that the 60-day guideline to send complaints to the police chief is difficult to meet. They said it is not enough time to vet the validity of a complaint by locating and subpoenaing witnesses, obtaining medical records and depositions, delivering materials and scheduling panel hearings whose members are volunteers in a time frame that does not take into account holidays.

The lawsuit says that Corporation Council told the Review Board that as long as they “acted in good faith,” going beyond the 60-day guideline would not cancel the complaint. Fowler would normally be required to issue a response as to why he did or did not take action against a complaint.

Syracuse Common Councilor Steven Thompson, who was a former police chief in the city, said he wants to work with the Citizen Review Board on the timeline issue. But he also said the Review Board does not have the authority to sue and he wants to highlight that with a new amendment.

“This is one of the authorities they do not have, that if they need to do something they need to move it to us and inform us of what they’re doing and then go from there,” Thompson said. "Our believe is and my believe is that this is a procedural issue that it can be resolved. If it can't be then we'll get the legislation with the wording in a concise factor that we can vote on."

Thompson is holding the amendment before it goes to a vote so the law department can redo the language.

"We asked them to engage with the lawyers for the CRB to see if there is something they can come up with to resolve this issue so we don't have to keep suing," Thompson said. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.