KINDERHOOK — State police have taken over the investigation into the alleged assault of Harold Handy at the home of Deputy Sheriff Kelly Rosenstrach and ClubLife owner Alex Rosenstrach.
The request was made by Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett and Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka.
The state Attorney General’s office earlier declined to get involved in the case.
State police are handling the investigation in its entirety, sheriff’s office Public Information Officer Lt. Louis Bray said in a statement Wednesday.
In an attempt to avoid “any perception of a conflict of interest,” Sheriff David Bartlett requested that state police take the case July 6, the day after the alleged assault, Bray said.
“State police declined to take the case, but agreed to assist sheriff’s investigators,” Bray said.
State Police Public Information Officer Beau Duffy confirmed Bartlett’s account.
“Since the sheriff’s office responded on the night of the incident and initiated the criminal investigation, we determined it would be best to assist with the case at that time,” Duffy said.
Czajka’s request was responsible for the change in the agency heading up the investigation, Duffy said Wednesday evening.
The district attorney’s office requested that state police handle the investigation given “the totality of the circumstances,” Czajka said.
Czajka declined to elaborate on the circumstances that led him to issue his request to state police on July 30.
Czajka was in talks with the office of state Attorney General Letitia James about the investigation into the alleged assault. The attorney general’s office called the week after the July 5 incident, Czajka said.
“I have spoken with a bureau chief in the attorney general’s office several times over the past several weeks and we did discuss their taking control of the entire investigation and prosecution. They informed me they would not do so,” Czajka said Thursday.
Czajka made his request to state police after learning Bartlett wanted to relinquish the investigation.
“In normal circumstances, I am not involved in the decision as to what police agency handles any arrest,” Czajka said.
Czajka’s office would prosecute the case in the event that an arrest is made, given that the attorney general’s office declined to take the case. But the district attorney noted that investigations take time.
“There is no direct relationship between the length of an investigation and the seriousness of the ultimate charges, if there are charges,” Czajka said. “Some cases take years to investigate before charges are filed. That does not mean I think this case will take years.”
Czajka declined to elaborate on the possible reasons for a lengthy investigation into the alleged assault, calling it “inappropriate to discuss” the investigation.
Paul Freeman, the attorney representing Handy, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment. A letter delivered to Freeman’s office went unanswered.
Freeman has called for an unbiased investigation.
“It is Harold Handy’s hope and prayer that insiders do not get special treatment, and that justice will be served,” Freeman said in a July 24 statement.
Czajka had not received a copy of Freeman’s statement but said the sentiment had merit.
“I believe that all investigations should be unbiased and I believe Mr. Freeman’s request was perfectly reasonable. That is not to infer that the investigation had bias to begin with. The fact that [the sheriff’s office] investigated in and of itself is no indication of bias,” he said.
The Valatie Rescue Squad was called to the Rosenstrach home at about 1 a.m. July 5 and treated Handy for 44 minutes before taking him to Albany Medical Center, Columbia County 911 Director Robert Lopez said July 9.
Kelly Rosenstrach was placed on administrative leave from her sheriff’s deputy position July 9, four days after the alleged assault.
“[The administrative leave] was appropriate under the circumstances while we investigate the incident that took place at her residence,” Bray said.
The sheriff’s office denied a Freedom of Information Law request and an appeal seeking a copy of the sheriff’s office’s report filed the night of July 5.
Bray declined to say whether Kelly Rosenstrach is collecting her salary while she is on administrative leave. Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell declined to discuss the administrative leave.
“I am not at liberty to discuss any pending personnel matters,” Murell said.
The labor contract between Columbia County and the Columbia County Deputy Sheriffs Benevolent Association does not include information about administrative leave policies.
“We don’t have an administrative leave policy,” Murell said.
An official in the county’s Human Resources and Payroll office said the payroll office would be unable to answer any questions about Kelly’s administrative leave.
Human Resources Director Michaele Williams-Riordon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The office of County Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons said the sheriff’s office can only release information about the administrative leave in response to a Freedom of Information request.