Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett and Alex Rosenstrach, 37, of Kinderhook, who owns Clublife Health and Fitness, were texting hours before the alleged July 5 assault of Harold Handy Jr. at a Fourth of July party held at Rosenstrach’s home he owns with his wife, Kelly — a sheriff’s deputy.
Bartlett and Rosenstrach texted between 9:15 p.m. and 9:21 p.m. July 4, according to text messages obtained by the Register-Star.
“You can do better than that,” Bartlett texted to Rosenstrach at 9:15 p.m.
“I miss you. Thank you Dave. It’s coming big brother. Love you guys,” Rosenstrach responded.
About six minutes later, at 9:21 p.m., Bartlett sent another text to Rosenstrach with two photos attached of fireworks.
“Cars parked all along best road (sic) we had a little block party and people are watching,” according to Bartlett’s text.
The sheriff’s office led an initial investigation into the suspected July 5 assault on Handy at the Rosenstrachs’ home. Despite Bartlett’s request for state police to take over the investigation July 6, state police did not take it over until August.
“Were they fireworks? Our block had a block party that night,” Bartlett said Tuesday. “We live a mile-and-a-half away from Rosenstrach’s house and he had fireworks every year — he has fireworks. And even with the investigation and the indictment, he was never charged with unlawful possession of fireworks, so he probably had a permit. The kids were asking when the fireworks were starting, so I had texted asking when the fireworks were starting. And then I said, ‘Hey it was a great show,’ and that was that.”
Bartlett said he knows Rosenstrach, who is his neighbor.
A block party was held near Bartlett’s home July 4, he said.
“I know the guy,” Bartlett said. “It’s a small town we live in. I know a lot of people up here. He [Rosenstrach] lives right across the field from me. If I could throw a baseball that far, I could hit his house. I literally can see his house from the other end of the cornfield.”
The sheriff added he had not been to Rosenstrach’s house in a while.
“I couldn’t even tell you the last time I was at his house,” Bartlett said. “Actually, I can tell you the last time I was at his house: I went there in my duty as fire chief about three years ago to put a fire out. I had to go there to put out a fire they had one night.”
Bartlett said the release of the text messages involved political games.
The sheriff is up for re-election in November.
“This is politically motivated,” he said. “The Republican [Committee endorsement] vote is Saturday, and all of a sudden, mysteriously, all these things have been getting leaked out. The state police did forensics on these phones for two months, so I don’t know who leaked this out, but it had to come from somewhere, not from the state police, but somewhere official.
“I already talked to the state police investigator, so I know it’s not coming from them.”
Rosenstrach donated $500 and $400 separately in 2017 to Bartlett’s campaign during his 2018 run for the sheriff’s seat, according to the state Board of Elections, was indicted in October by a grand jury in connection with the Handy case, along with his wife; Bryan Haag, 37, of Kinderhook and an IRS agent; and Cory Gaylord, 31, of Craryville.
After the indictment, Kelly Rosenstrach was suspended without pay from the sheriff’s office. She was reinstated with full pay after 30 days, in accordance with her union’s contract, but she is not working as a deputy, Bartlett said Tuesday.
“She is still employed,” Bartlett said. “Nothing can be done until the criminal cases are done. Nothing can be done internally, I can’t talk about internal, but nothing can be done until the criminal case is done.”
The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.
“I can say everything was done correctly,” Bartlett said of the investigation into the alleged assault on Handy. “People are saying that this is a cover-up. It’s not a cover-up. This investigation started on July 5. State police started assisting us on July 6, and the sheriff’s investigators and state police investigators worked the case until the case was concluded.”
As a civil service employee, Kelly Rosenstrach had to be put back on the sheriff’s office payroll.
“Civil service rules and regulations say after 30 days, you have to be put back on the books,” Bartlett said. “That’s a civil service law.”
The fate of Kelly Rosenstrach’s employment with the sheriff’s office depends on the outcome of the case, he said.
“We can’t do anything because this is an ongoing criminal case,” Bartlett said. “She [Kelly Rosenstrach] is not allowed at the [sheriff’s] office.”
In October’s indictment, Kelly Rosenstrach, who was seven months pregnant at the time of last summer’s alleged assault, was charged with one count each of second-degree gang assault, a class C felony; third-degree coercion, a class A misdemeanor; first-degree unlawful imprisonment, a class E felony; and three counts of official misconduct, a class A misdemeanor.
Alex Rosenstrach was charged with one count each of second-degree gang assault, a class C felony; second-degree assault, a class D felony; three counts of third-degree assault, a class A misdemeanor; and one count each of first-degree unlawful imprisonment, a class E felony; third-degree coercion, a class A misdemeanor; and second-degree reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
In addition, Haag was charged with one count each of second-degree gang assault, a class C felony; second-degree assault, a class D felony; three counts of third-degree assault, a class A misdemeanor; and one count of first-degree unlawful imprisonment, a class E felony.
Gaylord was charged with one count each of second-degree gang assault, a class C felony; two counts of third-degree assault, a class D felony; one count of first-degree unlawful imprisonment, a class E felony; one count of third-degree coercion, a class A misdemeanor; and second-degree reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
All four defendants were released on their own recognizance.