hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News December 2014-January 2015



Local video adds to debate over police tactics


A Saratoga County sheriff’s sergeant resigned last month and was charged with official misconduct and harassment after a video that went viral on the Internet showed him berating and apparently slapping a young man who was refusing to allow his car to be searched.

The video, which quickly became part of a growing national debate over aggressive police tactics, shows the sergeant, Shawn R. Glans, becoming increasingly belligerent and repeatedly swearing as he demands to search the locked car of Christopher Fitch, 20, of Saratoga Springs. Glans was not aware that Fitch’s friend Adam Roberts was recording a video of the early morning encounter in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store in Halfmoon.

After threatening to get a search warrant, Glans then steps toward Fitch and says, “Let me see your (expletive) keys.”

“Why?” Fitch responds. “You can’t do that.”
“Because we’re going to search your (expletive) car, that’s why,” Glans responds. “You want to (expletive) resist?”

The sergeant then apparently slaps Fitch -- there is a loud slapping sound, although the camera at that moment isn’t aimed high enough to show Glans’ hand or Fitch’s head – and Glans again says, “You want to (expletive) resist?”

Glans then forcibly takes Fitch’s car keys and tosses them to another officer at the scene with instructions to “search the (expletive) car.”

Glans later told the Times Union of Albany that he was concerned for public safety after seeing a .22-caliber rifle on the back seat of Fitch’s car. But Roberts said Fitch had bought the weapon earlier that day and that the police eventually let them go after Fitch produced a receipt for the weapon.

Glans said he would have handled the incident in the same way unless he had known it was being recorded.

“If I had to do it all over again, … I’d probably do the same thing,” Glans told the newspaper. “If I knew the camera was there, no, because it does look bad.”

Neither Fitch nor Roberts was charged in the incident, which began about 2 a.m. Friday, Nov. 7. Glans, a 19-year veteran of the county sheriff’s department, was suspended without pay later that day, after the agency became aware of the video, and resigned the following Monday.
The most serious of the charges against Glans, official misconduct, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said he was “very disturbed” by the content of the video. He also told The Post-Star of Glens Falls that two officers who were with Glans at the Wal-Mart parking lot, and who have not been publicly identified, are the focus of an internal investigation because they did not report Glans’ conduct.

A Halfmoon town justice issued an order of protection barring Glans from having contact with Fitch or Roberts.

Terence Kindlon, an Albany criminal defense lawyer interviewed by the Times Union about the content of the video, said he believes it’s common for police to claim they had permission to search a suspect’s vehicle when in fact they didn’t.

“In my experience, most vehicle searches are conducted in complete disregard for the Fourth Amendment,” Kindlon said. “Every few years, one out of a zillion of these bad searches is captured on video. Then the powers that be declare themselves to be shocked.”
The next week, Kindlon filed legal papers indicating Fitch and Roberts intend to sue the county and Glans for violating their rights under the Second and Fourth Amendments.

And just days after that, state police charged Fitch with a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment, claiming he nearly drove into a security guard at Wilton Mall.
Kindlon told The Post-Star he was cynical about the details of that arrest, given the context of Fitch’s run-in with the sheriff’s sargeant less than two weeks earlier.
“The fact the guy has never been in trouble his whole life, and all of a sudden he is arrested a week later, I find that quite interesting,” he said.

-- Compiled by Fred Daley