Tuesday, June 18, 2024

UP officer sues

By Alana Penny

A University Police Lieutenant filed a lawsuit against the SUNY Plattsburgh assistant director of human resources. He filed this lawsuit after he was disciplined, when the human resources department found out he has been in a romantic relationship with a student since March.

In March 2022, Darren Barcomb matched with a SUNY Plattsburgh student on Tinder, a dating app. Barcomb said in the lawsuit that he did not know she was a student until they met in person. He said they met in person March 10, and decided to begin a “consensual romantic relationship.” Barcomb said he never met with the student while on duty. 

On March 30, Barcomb escorted the student to her dormitory after a date. He was not on duty and was not in uniform. Soon after they got to her room, four UP officers arrived and questioned her, making “snide” comments about their age difference and whether she “consented” to their relationship, according to the lawsuit. 

On Oct. 9, 2018 SUNY put a system-wide policy requiring all SUNY campuses to develop a sexual and romantic relationship policy by March 1, 2019. SUNY Plattsburgh’s policy states: “SUNY Plattsburgh professional staff or other college personnel, are prohibited from entering romantic relationships with any undergraduate students for whom such staff or personnel have current supervisory, instructional, or other professional responsibility.” The policy says violations may result in disciplinary charges up to and including termination. 

According to the lawsuit, Barcomb is currently on alternative duty assignment and cannot come to campus. On April 4, Trombley gave him a letter forbidding him from contacting any SUNY Plattsburgh personnel or students until further notice. 

The lawsuit said Assistant Director of Human Resources Michelle Trombley, “represents the machinations of a tyrannical, small-minded bureaucrat, which are patently violating a Police Officer’s constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit, filed April 15, claims Barcomb’s first and 14th amendment constitutional rights were violated. It accuses Trombley of taking away his right to have intimate relationships and friendships. He said Trombley is motivated by bad faith and malice. The suit claims this has left Barcomb “irreparably injured.” 

In addition to a judgment in his favor, Barcomb is asking the court to grant him a monetary award for attorney’s fees and other legal fees associated with filing the lawsuit as well as compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by a jury. 

Barcomb has been a university police officer for 23 years. He received SUNY’s 2021 Professional Service Award by the SUNY Police Chiefs Association. He is also the union representative for the SUNY Plattsburgh Police Lieutenants. 

After reaching out to University Police, human resources and Barcomb, all requests were forwarded to Heather Haskins, the executive director of strategic communications and marketing. 

Haskins said: “SUNY Plattsburgh is also committed to promoting fairness in grading, evaluation, and career opportunities. In order to achieve this, it is vital that all college personnel maintain professional boundaries with students, and with employees over whom there is or will be a supervisory relationship.”

She also said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

This is not the first lawsuit Barcomb has filed against a SUNY Plattsburgh employee. 

Barcomb filed a lawsuit in 2007, against Arlene Sabo, SUNY Plattsburgh Chief of Police at the time; Jerry Lottie, assistant chief of police at the time; Lawrence Mills, director of human resources at the time; William Laundry, vice president of student affairs at the time; Roger Johnson, assistant vice chancellor at the time; Shawn P. Murphy, trooper for the New York state police at the time; and Mary Dupell, a sergeant for the New York State Police. It stated that Barcomb had been subjected to a “campaign of constant harassment” by Sabo.

One example given occurred June, 26, 2005, when menacing charges were filed against him by an ex-girlfriend on Long Island, and he was suspended without pay from the SUNY Plattsburgh police. According to the lawsuit, the suspension was lifted by an arbitrator from the Public Employees Relations Board in December 2005, claiming the charges pending against Barcomb were not credible. The arbitrator gave Barcomb back pay and ordered he be reinstated. He said Sabo and Lottie violated his fourth amendment rights by arresting and transporting him for a crime he was accused of in Long Island without providing him the opportunity to appear before a local court first. 

In January 2006, Barcomb said he was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint by a New York state trooper. At some point in their interaction Barcomb mentioned he was a police officer. He was still suspended at this time and was arrested for impersonating an officer. The case was dismissed in court. Barcomb claimed in the lawsuit he experienced irreparable injury, claiming the arrest was “motivated by bad faith and malice.”

In January 2007, Barcomb was a passenger in a car driven by someone else. The lawsuit says the car slid off an icy road, and Barcomb was arrested for allegedly drunken driving. The other man in the car provided several statements to the state police that he was the one driving. Charges against Barcomb were dropped and the other person was arrested for driving while intoxicated, according to the lawsuit. 

Sabo suspended Barcomb after he was arrested, refusing to lift them until the charges, which were still pending, were lifted.  

According to the lawsuit, Sabo also attempted to reopen a workers compensation case from October 2002. The case said he broke his arm falling down stairs on the job, but Sabo claimed he injured it at home, fighting with an ex-girlfriend. The Workers’ Compensation Board said there wasn’t sufficient, reliable evidence to undo a claim from almost five years prior. 

The lawsuit said Sabo was trying to drive Barcomb out of the department and destroy his career in law enforcement. 

He claims in the lawsuit that being suspended without pay is in violation of the collective bargaining agreement between SUNY and his union. 

The lawsuit also claims “the harassment, suspensions, arrests and prosecution of Barcomb was in direct response to his efforts to organize, lead and sustain the union that represents his fellow police officers at SUNY Plattsburgh.” 

The lawsuit also accuses Laundry and Johnson of not properly supervising and/or disciplining Lottie and Sabo. 

All causes were dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe, May 6, 2011. Barcomb appealed the decision Aug. 9 2012, but the appeals court affirmed their previous decision.

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