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Young defends himself against Gouverneur village charges he misused gas

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GOUVERNEUR — Suspended village police officer Steven M. Young, who is also the chief of the Gouverneur Volunteer Fire Department, tried to conceal one of two keys used to access the village gasoline pump when questioned by a state police investigator, according to testimony Friday at Mr. Young’s hearing on administrative charges brought by the village.

Mr. Young was suspended with pay in September pending the police investigation into whether he inappropriately used village gasoline. The village suspended him without pay Dec. 30 and brought a series of Civil Service charges, mostly violations of the rules of conduct of the police department, including conduct unbecoming an officer, abuse of position, unsatisfactory performance and untruthfulness.

The criminal investigation is complete.

“We are waiting solely for a response from the district attorney’s office,” Senior Investigator Michael G. Ryan of the state police said.

According to Mr. Young’s attorney, the charges are trumped up and the village is unable to accurately track the gas pump’s keys or the use of gasoline.

“Quite frankly, this is a witch hunt,” said attorney Michael F. Young, who is not related to Steven Young. “They don’t know when anything was used and what was used. My client had no reason to steal gas because he was allowed to take as much gas as he needed.”

The hearing will reconvene at 1 p.m. April 8.

The investigation began in July after a village police dispatcher reported her car had been broken into. Police Sgt. Laurina M. Greenhill reviewed footage from cameras at the back of the municipal building for leads. She saw Mr. Young gas up his pickup truck at the fuel station and reported it to Police Chief Gordon F. Ayen Jr. and Mayor Ronald P. McDougall, who turned the investigation over to state police.

Mrs. Greenhill testified that she determined that Mr. Young had pumped gas into his pickup truck from the police department reserve several times in July and August rather than use any of the three keys for the fire department.

The E2 key was for use solely for the village police department. The four E2 keys known to exist at the time were kept in the department’s three marked cars and one unmarked car.

The Fire Department keys were coded E6, E8 and E9. Each coded key fit into a respective lock on the fuel panel.

On Sept. 3, Mr. Ryan conducted what he termed an informational interview with Mr. Young on the porch of his home on Rowley Street, where Mr. Young told him he was entitled to gas to make up for what he used during the course of his duties for the fire department. The discussion was that Mr. Young had the E6 key and that First Assistant Chief Thomas J. Conklin had two others.

When Mr. Ryan asked for the key, Mr. Young opened his truck door, turned so his back was to the investigator, detached a key from a ring, and dropped it into the truck’s center console before handing him the other key.

When asked by Mr. Ryan why he had detached the second key and dropped it, Mr. Young stared blankly and paused.

“He was unable to answer the question,” Mr. Ryan said.

Later, Mr. Ryan said Mr. Young told him he had dropped the key because it was an extra one the Fire Department had for use at the village gas pump.

“The key he attempted to conceal, in my opinion, in the center console, was E2,” Mr. Ryan said. “It clearly was not a duplicate.”

Michael Young questioned whether the police department had an official policy on use of the fuel station because written documentation does not exist.

“I am absolutely sure an E2 key is not a fire department key,” Mr. Ryan said. “Numerous individuals have indicated to me it was a police department key.”

Michael Young also questioned how the E2 key came to the fire department, which used to be in the municipal building. “Is it possible one of the E2 keys ended up in the fire department by accident?” he asked.

“Very possible,” Mr. Ryan said. “With my investigation, we were unable to determine the exact number of keys. There could be 100 keys out there.”

Michael Young also questioned Mr. Ryan what his client’s motive could have been to steal when he was allowed gas through the fire department without penalty.

Although the village pays for the cost of gas used by the fire department, that has been true only for the two most recent contracts, Mr. Ryan said.

In prior years, the department’s gas costs were subtracted from the amount provided by the village, he said.

Michael Young also objected to Marlinda L. LaValley, the CEO of Gouverneur Hospital, serving as the hearing officer because she has a relationship with the village.

Village attorney Henry J. Leader said a relationship does not necessarily mean bias. “There’s a relationship with everyone in a small community,” he said.

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