Near the end of the August 7 City Council meeting, City Manager Sage Gerling dropped the bombshell news that officer Jack Montesanto, who pled not guilty to a misdemeanor charge a few days earlier, had been suddenly placed on unpaid leave. Meanwhile, back in 2017, Montesanto took a vacation in Florida just weeks after being suspended for an argument with the Chief of Police.
What Changed With The Montesanto Case?
While the arrest of Jack Montesanto sent shock waves through much of the Geneva community, some members of the community were not surprised that Montesanto was in trouble, as his alleged reputation for being violent and having an explosive temper was widely known. The fact that Montesanto had been mysteriously stripped of his position as Sergeant and demoted to the lowest level Patrol Officer in 2018, losing his entire nine years of seniority, created even more questions.
Montesanto was arraigned the same day of his arrest, and entered a plea of not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of breathing. And like overwhelming majority of cases in which a police officer is accused of a misdemeanor, Montesanto was placed on paid leave, and would continue receiving his salary of more than $93,000.
Two days later, members of the media and community were left wondering why Montesanto was only being charged with a misdemeanor when it was revealed in a Finger Lakes Times interview with Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua that the victim had lost consciousness when she was choked by the officer, which, according to state law, should have merited a felony charge.
Then on August 4th, Geneva Believer published an exclusive story, which included messages and a voicemail from Montesanto himself, detailing the reason for Montesanto’s extended suspension and eventual demotion in 2017 through 2018.
Three days later, Montesanto was put on unpaid leave.
Montesanto Placed On Unpaid Leave After Messages To Geneva Believer Are Published
In the story published on August 4th, it was revealed that Montesanto contacted Geneva Believer back in 2018 in response to an article about his demotion, and stated that his demotion was “an internal matter between me and former Chief Trickler,” later adding that the demotion “stemmed from an argument during a command staff meeting on Feb. 2, 2017. This was between Jeff Trickler and myself.”
The responses (to the 2018 article) from Montesanto received by Geneva Believer were completely unexpected, considering that he had likely signed an agreement when he was reinstated that required him to keep all details of the agreement confidential.
If Montesanto’s agreement with the City, the GPD and the union included a confidentiality clause, Montesanto most likely violated that agreement when he contacted Geneva Believer and revealed details about the incident that led to his suspension.
(excerpt from “Accused GPD Cop Speaks, Sources Say He Tried To Fight Chief“)
There was no public response from the City of Geneva or the Geneva Police Department to Montesanto’s public revelations about his suspension and demotion.
Three days later, near the end of the August 7 2019 City Council meeting, City Manager Sage Gerling made the following announcement:
“I have an update from Chief Passalacqua that Officer Montesanto has been placed on unpaid status.”
No further information or details were provided by Gerling.
The announcement received no print or broadcast media coverage.
Was Montesanto suddenly placed on unpaid leave because the city found out that he violated a confidentiality agreement by contacting Geneva Believer in 2018?
Did Geneva Believer’s investigative work potentially save city taxpayers thousands of dollars in salary paid to an unfit officer?
The public should not expect the answer to these questions, or any other details related to Montesanto’s sudden and shocking loss of pay, because this type of information is hidden from public view thanks to New York State’s Civil Rights Law 50-a.
According to the website for the New York City Bar:
“No other state in the country hides police misconduct from the public like New York,” said Phil Desgranges, Chair of the City Bar’s Civil Rights Committee. “CRL 50-a has become a means to shield officers from public accountability and it impedes racial justice. The Legislature should repeal it so New York can catch up to other states that prioritize accountability and public trust over secrecy.”
The original purpose of CRL 50-a was to prevent disclosure of “unverified and unsubstantiated” civilian complaints—not to prevent disclosure of substantiated civilian complaints.
Montesanto Was Paid Over $128,000 While Suspended In 2017-2018 For “Argument” With Chief
In February 2017, about two weeks after Jack Montesanto began serving what would be a 16-month paid suspension for an “argument” with former Chief Jeff Trickler, Montesanto went on vacation to Florida.
Montesanto’s Twitter feed showed the suspended cop enjoying a visit to the Miami zoo and relaxing on the beach.
Montesanto took home an annual salary of $89,242 in 2017.
The next year, Montesanto received his annual raise while still on suspension, and his annual salary jumped to $93,000 in 2018.
From February 2017 through June 2018, Montesanto was paid more than $128,000 in taxpayer dollars while on suspension.
“Passive Cover-Up” Once Again Illustrates Need For Police Oversight
Although residents should pay attention to whatever city officials tell us related to police misconduct stories, residents need to pay equal attention to what they DON’T tell us.
Withholding information is routinely used by Geneva city officials to essentially cover-up these issues.
- When officer Todd Yancey was found to have made several racist social media posts in 2017, city officials expressed disgust with the post and promised a timely resolution to the problem. Nearly two years later, Yancey’s name is no longer on the GPD roster, and the city still has told residents NOTHING about Yancey’s status.
- When racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on a storage shed adjacent to a public downtown parking lot in June 2019, the Geneva Police Department did not release a statement or ask the public for help with the investigation. In July, after two more incidents of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti were discovered, the Geneva Police Department announced their investigation, but told residents NOTHING about why they didn’t issue a press release and start a public investigation after the first incident in June.
- In the case of Montesanto, the City Manager announced that the highly unusual step of moving the officer from paid leave to unpaid leave had been taken, but no press release or other public mention was made.
The City Manager, Chief of Police, City Councilor Mark Gramling, and the rest of the Community Compact committee take a public posture in support of transparency and accountability, yet time and time again, they actively work to gloss over and downplay serious issues related to police accountability.
Folks, don’t let them gaslight you. Pay close attention to what they are DOING, not what they are SAYING.
They are working together to aggressively control the narrative around the policing problem that we have in Geneva, and by doing so, they are empowering cops like Montesanto to put our friends and neighbors in the Geneva community at risk every single day.