OLEAN — Charges alleging a former Olean Police Department dispatcher lied about how often she checked on an arrestee who hanged himself and later died could soon be dropped.
The case against Lorraine G. Sloane has been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, meaning her charge of second-degree falsifying business records, a class A misdemeanor, will be dismissed as long as she is not arrested again for six months. The dismissal could happen as soon as April, as the case was adjourned Oct. 20 in Olean City Court.
“The reality was the criminal charge that was filed would have been difficult to prove,” Jay Carr, who served as special prosecutor and made the ACD agreement with Sloane and her attorney, told the Olean Times Herald Monday.
Sloane, 55, of Olean, was charged after Olean police discovered inconsistencies with its prisoner log during an internal investigation of a June 11 suicide attempt in its cell block. Olean police notified New York State Police, which then determined that Sloane falsely signed off on business records that she checked the cell block every 30 minutes as the on-duty dispatcher June 11, and charged her.
New York state regulations require arrestees in city jails be checked at least every 30 minutes.
Carr said there was “no question” Sloane falsified the prisoner log, but a conviction would require prosecutors prove Sloane did so in an attempt to defraud. State penal law specifies someone is guilty of second-degree falsifying business records when they make the false entry “with intent to defraud.”
“An intent to defraud is generally interpreted by most of the court decisions to be some sort of financial gain,” he said.
It could “absolutely” be argued that Sloane, by lying that she fulfilled her duty to check the cell block, stood to gain from keeping her job as a dispatcher, Carr said. According to SeeThroughNY, which collects state employees’ salary information, Sloane earned $51,774 a year from her position.
“I guess there’s an argument she got a gain by not showing that she did anything wrong, but it really was, in my mind, not at all a sure thing that she was guilty of that statute,” Carr said, adding the district attorney’s office agreed it would be “kind of iffy” to prove Sloane had an intent to defraud the state.
Carr, an Olean-based attorney, was assigned to the case due to Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman having a conflict of interest. Rieman said she asked for a special prosecutor because her office often works with dispatchers and she wanted to “avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
“What (Sloane) really did that was wrong more significantly was not checking on the prisoner,” Carr said. “That’s what resulted unfortunately in him being able to commit suicide, but … there really wasn’t a criminal charge that would apply to her conduct as far as not checking on the prisoners like she was supposed to.”
Although state regulations require it, not checking on an arrestee at least every 30 minutes is not a criminal offense for a jail employee.
Stephen Schindlbeck, 31, whose last known address was in Allegany, was found hanging from his cell bars at 12:47 p.m. June 11, according to an Olean police incident report. He had been arrested at 1:53 a.m. on drunk driving charges. He died six days later at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo.
The New York State Commission of Correction’s investigation into the death is still ongoing, commission spokesman Justin Mason said Monday. The commission investigated all 191 inmate deaths across state jails and prisons in 2016, including 23 suicides. Only one inmate being held in police lockups died that year, and it was not by suicide.
The state Commission of Correction ordered Olean police to change its jail policies in 2004 after two suicides occurred within one year. According to the report, the city was required to train dispatchers to cut down arrestees who have hanged themselves and perform CPR, after city policy previously required dispatchers to call officers back to the station during emergencies in the cells. It also ordered Olean police to develop a comprehensive policy on prisoner supervision and develop a policy for responding to suicide and suicide attempts.
Mickey George, who was in custody at the city jail when police discovered Schindlbeck, previously told the Times Herald Schindlbeck’s head hit the floor after officers did not catch him when cutting him down. George, 31, of Olean, also said officers did not perform CPR and that responding paramedics inquired about Schindlbeck’s head.
Olean Police Chief Jeff Rowley previously questioned George’s motivations and how much of the incident George was able to witness. He declined to confirm Schindlbeck hit his head on the floor, but said it’s “certainly a possibility.”
The Erie County Medical Examiner's Office declined to release an autopsy report to the Times Herald, citing HIPAA regulations.
Carr added that Sloane also had to submit her resignation to the Olean Police Department as a condition of the ACD. Rowley said Sloane no longer worked for the city as of her arrest, but did not specify whether Sloane resigned or was terminated. Sloane had worked for the department for approximately 15 years, Rowley said.
“In talking with the city, their main concern was that they didn’t want to be litigating her employment status for a long period of time,” Carr said.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)