Shandaken code officer not guilty in forcible touching case; hopes to be re-instated

By Jay Braman Jr.

Saugerties Town Justice Samuel Lamp has determined that former Shandaken Code Officer Richard Stokes was not guilty of forcible touching following allegations made last fall by employees at a local restaurant.

Now that he has been cleared of those charges, Stokes expects to be reinstated as Code Officer, a position he voluntarily took an unpaid leave of absence from last fall immediately following his September 18 arrest.

“I’m glad the truth came out and my name is in the clear,” Stokes said Monday. “Now I wish I could get my job back.”

Stokes, who said that Justice Lamp dismissed the case because he concluded that the charges were false, has been on leave for 13 months from the Code Officer position.

The town hired another former Code Officer, Art Christie, as an interim officer the same day that Stokes took leave and then hired former town board member Al Frisenda about two months later to take on the position.

There was no discussion about rehiring of Stokes at the December town board meeting, held Monday.

The charges against Stokes stemmed from an alleged incident that occurred in April, 2012 at the opening night party for J Rocco’s, a new steakhouse in town, and coincided with Rocco’s owner Eric Risher making a public complaint against Stokes just 10 days prior to the arrest, claiming Stokes had been using the power of his position to harass Risher ever since the grand opening.

Following the advice of legal council at the time, the Shandaken Town Board held an emergency session to consider how best to treat the matter.

As they went into a closed session to discuss options, Stokes arrived with a written request to be granted a temporary leave of absence from his position, without pay, until the matter is resolved.
At that session, on the advice of his attorney, Stokes would not answer questions about the charges, but did say that he felt taking a leave of absence made sense.

“It is the right thing to do for the town until this is sorted out,” he said.

The town board agreed to grant the leave. Board members Alfie Higley, Vince Bernstein, Doris Bartlett and Supervisor Rob Stanley voted in favor. Councilman Jack Jordan was absent.

It became clear that an arrest was expected when Risher stood at the microphone at the September 10, 2012 town board meeting and spoke at length about Stokes. Risher described Stokes as being very intoxicated when he arrived at the grand opening and had made the waitresses uncomfortable. Risher made Stokes leave the restaurant and said Stokes was no longer allowed in. While speaking to the town board, Risher warned that those waitresses were planning to take some form of legal action, and also complained to the board that Stokes had been harassing Risher and singling out his restaurant for unannounced inspections.

Supervisor Rob Stanley, who was with Stokes the night of the grand opening, would not discuss the matter publicly, stating that it is against the law to discuss personnel matters in a public forum.
Stanley said that he and the rest of the town board were in discussions with the town attorney about how to proceed with Stokes.