From the start of the enigmatic assault case at a Fourth of July party at the home of one of his deputies, it has been a long, strange summer for Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett.
Last month, Bartlett maintained that his department could navigate a fair, unbiased investigation of a fellow officer and reiterated that there was nothing illegal about heading up the probe. Illegal? No. Unethical? Yes, in italics.
Then, last week, Bartlett posted a comment on Facebook about a Black man who was apparently urinating on the side of Route 23A in Palenville, a hamlet of Catskill, in Greene County.
Bartlett’s comment was made regarding a video posted by Ken Ellsworth, of Palenville, a retired Hunter police officer.
“Same over here brother,” Bartlett wrote. “They do what they want, where they want. Time to go back where they came from.” Bartlett said last week his comment referred to park visitors who have been drawing complaints from local residents in the area.
That is a plausible explanation. The Palenville/Hunter area is overrun annually by tourists and visitors who disrespect the private property of others, pose a danger to themselves and others by walking and parking in the middle of the road and, generally, leave the area a lot worse than when they arrived.
And Bartlett, like all other citizens, is innocent until proven guilty.
However, this hasn’t stopped charges that the sheriff made a racist comment.
“AS AN ELECTED OFFICIAL HE SHOULD NOT BE TELLING PEOPLE TO GO BACK WHERE THEY CAME FROM PERIOD,” Trisha Arlene, of Ghent, wrote on Facebook.
“I want a public apology and I want it now,” Jarin Ahmed, of Hudson, wrote on Facebook. “I am appalled by this comment and his audacity to make such a remark whatever the context may be. But in case it does matter — he made this comment in response to a black man urinating on the side of a road. My question to him and the entire department is: What gives you the authority (or who) to make racist comments like this?”
Bartlett denied allegations that his comment was racist, calling them “absolutely untrue.”
But “Time to go back where they came from” was a poor choice of words. Those were the words tweeted last year by President Donald Trump about four congresswomen of color.
We’re left to wonder why the top lawman in Columbia County got involved in what is exclusively a Greene County issue? It is unlikely that Bartlett wants to be sheriff of Greene County, too. We think Bartlett has enough to worry about in Columbia County.