Meet the sheriff who wants to put Andrew Cuomo behind bars

Ten years ago, in the midst of what would become a successful campaign to become the County Sheriff, a potentially devastating record emerged.

“I know exactly how to manipulate the law and I have become pretty good at doing it,” Craig D. Apple Sr., then Deputy Sheriff of Albany County, NY, told a group of county investigators.

His words seemed to have little effect on voters: Mr. Apple was elected sheriff, and his tenure and popularity have led him to run unopposed in every election since.

But Sheriff Apple now finds itself under much closer scrutiny. In October, the sheriff filed a criminal complaint against former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, accusing him of a sexual offense, usually associated with charges of unwanted sexual advances in public places, without the intervention of the county attorney’s office.

Mr. Cuomo and his associates accused the sheriff of harboring old grudges against Mr. Cuomo, calling the law enforcement official a “cowboy sheriff.” They resurfaced the old recording as a way to try and challenge Sheriff Apple’s integrity and question his decision to indict the former governor.

They also suggest the sheriff coordinated the timing of the complaint with state attorney general Letitia James, who announced her candidacy for governor a day after the charge became public. No evidence has emerged of any coordination, but Rita Glavin, Mr Cuomo’s lawyer, said the timing “should make us all reflect on whether the heavy hand of politics is behind this decision” .

Other attacks followed. Since August, when the sheriff revealed he was investigating a charge that Mr. Cuomo groped the chest of an aide in the Executive Mansion, the sheriff’s office had received anonymous threats and hate mails targeting him. and his family, who the sheriff said were from Cuomo supporters.

Sheriff Apple ignored the threats. “Put yourself in my shoes,” he said. “Do you want me to choose my complainants or my victims?” “

Sheriff Apple, 54, heads a department of about 700 assistants, correctional officers, dispatchers, fire investigators and medical responders.

Raised in Bethlehem, a town just south of Albany, Sheriff Apple joined the department in 1987, just two years out of high school. Since then, he’s been an almost constant presence in the local press – regaling reporters with stories of high-speed chases, a prolific jewelry thief, disbelieving teenagers, and even the torture of a Snapping Turtle.

Tall, sturdy and known for his love of cigars, the Sheriff also enjoys wide community support for his many captivating efforts in areas slightly peripheral to his work.

Matthew J. Miller, a Democratic county lawmaker and high school biology teacher in Selkirk, not far from where Sheriff Apple grew up, recalled how the sheriff responded to the 2014 strangulation death of Kenneth White, 5-year-old by a teenage cousin in their home in Knox, NY, part of the Hilltowns community in rural northwest Albany County.

The sheriff showed up quickly, held a vigil and befriended the boy’s two surviving sisters, who were turned over to child welfare services. On Spring Day 2019, when a new family adopted the girls, he took them from family court in a police car with flashing lights and a siren.

“I would say that even Andrew Cuomo when he was at the top of his game would have a hard time discrediting our sheriff,” Miller said. “He has a reservoir of goodwill.

The sheriff’s jurisdiction covers approximately 540 square miles, overlapping with local police departments in towns like Albany, Bethlehem, and Cohoes. His office also runs the county jail, where allegations of torture were investigated after New York City banned solitary confinement for young prisoners, then began transferring young detainees to Albany. , where there were no such restrictions.

But the attention paid to this controversy is paltry compared to the scrutiny Sheriff Apple has come under since he charged Mr. Cuomo with forcible touching, a sex offense that carries a possible sentence. go up to one year in prison but often results in much shorter sentences.

The complaint is based on the account of Brittany Commisso, a former executive assistant to Mr. Cuomo. She accused Mr. Cuomo of running a hand under her blouse to stroke her chest while they were alone in the Executive Mansion late last year; Ms Commisso was among a dozen women whose sexual harassment charges against Mr Cuomo formed the basis of a state attorney general report that ultimately led to his resignation in August.

Ms Commisso filed a complaint against Mr Cuomo with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office in August. A subsequent investigation resulted in a criminal charge.

While the Sheriff’s Department is charged with investigating a wide variety of crimes in Albany County, few are sexual offenses. In 2018, for example, the Albany Police Department made 17 arrests with a sex crime as the main charge. The sheriff’s department dealt with six.

But Ms Commisso’s attorney went to the sheriff to file the complaint over fears the Albany Police Department would not want to conduct a politically explosive investigation into Mr Cuomo, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Sheriff Apple said his office received assistance from the state attorney general’s office and outside attorneys hired by the state assembly, who conducted a separate investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Cuomo. “The case is very strong,” the sheriff said shortly after Mr. Cuomo was charged.

Yet his handling of Cuomo’s complaint made him vulnerable to criticism from Camp Cuomo and, more importantly, from Albany District Attorney David Soares, who has yet to commit to pursuing the case. .

Mr Soares said Sheriff Apple engaged in “troubling” investigative methods and withheld potentially “exculpatory” evidence in the Cuomo case.

The two law enforcement officials cannot even agree on the documents filed: Mr Soares said in a letter to the court that an essential part of Ms Commisso’s statement was missing; the sheriff disagreed, saying his investigator submitted all the necessary documents not once but twice, after the first copy went missing.

Sheriff Apple said he and Mr Soares initially worked together but decided to conduct parallel investigations to avoid charges and leaks.

The sheriff has denied speculation that he filed the criminal complaint without the district attorney’s coordination in an attempt to force Mr. Soares to pursue the case.

“Look, he’s the district attorney, he can do whatever he needs to do in this case,” Sheriff Apple said. “I mean, it’s totally up to him. It is his prerogative. But I wouldn’t say I locked him up. I think it is unfair.

Mr. Soares requested and obtained a postponement of Mr. Cuomo’s arraignment, which was postponed until January.

Mr Cuomo also sought to discredit the sheriff’s investigation by trying to link it to Ms James. Not only did she announce her campaign the day after the criminal complaint against Mr. Cuomo became public, but she also recently visited the county, handing out millions of dollars in aid to local governments and posing for photos with local officials, including Sheriff Apple.

“Ms. James’ timing was pretty bad,” said the sheriff. “I mean, she’s the attorney general. Everyone took this photo. And they naturally assume that, you know, we’re in cahoots for, you know, pulling a political scam. And I’m like ‘Oh, my God.’ “

Whatever the outcome of the Cuomo case, it appears the sheriff’s position in his community will not suffer: he is known among some fellow Democrats as the “Sheriff of Teflon” for his ability to persevere, even thrive, through problems that could tarnish less skillful politicians.

Some of this ability, according to many, can be attributed to the sheriff’s frequent and conspicuous acts of apparent kindness.

He set a progressive record not often associated with a county sheriff. He transformed a little-used wing of the prison into dormitory-style accommodation for the homeless and he implemented medically assisted treatment for inmates with opioid addiction.

His office has started providing rapid tests and vaccines against Covid-19, a move Sheriff Apple said was made possible by “strong support from the governor’s chamber.”

The sheriff galvanized the county and made headlines statewide in 2018, when around 300 migrants swept up in southern border raids were led to the Albany County Jail. The sheriff described their confusion, their dirty business and their tears. Then he enlisted the Immigration Law Clinic at Albany Law School to move into the prison and recruit translators.

In 2019, he took charge of the fate of Kinimo Ngoran, a cook at a homeless shelter in downtown Albany who was arrested for immigration violations, despite continued efforts to obtain citizenship. .

Sheriff Apple twice tweeted President Trump asking for Mr. Ngoran’s release, even including his phone number. The sheriff attended both hearings with Mr. Ngoran, strategically seated in the front row in ceremonial uniform. He left the courthouse with Mr. Ngoran released.

John McDonald, a Democratic Assembly member whose district includes parts of Albany County, said anyone who suggests Sheriff Apple indicted Mr. Cuomo “because he needs political support for them. next year’s elections is laughable.

“Craig Apple will be sheriff for as long as he wants to be sheriff,” he said.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting.

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