News7 News I Team


I-TEAM: New York State Police internal documents reveal sex on duty, DWIs and lies

Posted: 12:06 PM, Oct 07, 2022
Updated: 2022-10-07 12:06:34-04

Transparency Matters To Us

The owner of WKBW-TV, E.W. Scripps, has a motto of, “Give light and the people will find their own way.” In keeping with that belief, we are making State Police documents we obtained available to you at the bottom of this page.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Sworn to protect and serve, the New York State Police say they perform their duties with the highest degree of fairness, professionalism and integrity. But internal documents obtained by the 7 News I-Team show how top brass discipline their own following misconduct and dishonesty.

Trooper Michael Catanzaro abused his position by contacting someone under false pretenses to promote the personal interest of a friend in 2011. He received a 60-day suspension. Trooper Brandan Voss, called "Super Trooper" by some lawyers, had three founded misconduct incidents in three months that include interactions with the public in 2018. Voss was suspended for 30 days. Trooper Aaron Destro took pictures in his State Police uniform with his genitalia exposed, losing five vacation days in 2008 and had sex on the job two years later, leading to an eight day suspension.

These members of State Police and dozens more that committed misconduct remain on the force, serving in Western New York. The I-Team obtained these documents from a local district attorney's office because State Police have regularly denied the media's open records requests for these same documents.

State Police Troop A is responsible for the eight counties of Western New York.

Police Superintendent: "It's a value judgment each time"

New York State Police Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen (WKBW)

In late August, the I-Team traveled to Albany to sit down with Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen, the head of State Police. On Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced his resignation. According to a report by the Albany Times Union, it comes amid an investigation by the governor's office into alleged misconduct.

He wouldn't comment on specific cases, but says the troopers' past behavior and their professional qualities would determine their punishment.

"The mere fact that somebody's made mistakes, done things that are wrong, does not necessarily mean they're irrecoverable or irredeemable," said Bruen.

In 2009, internal documents show Trooper Sergio Cruz was "counseled" because his DWI arrests were substandard, making just two arrests the previous year. Cruz was cited again for his performance during 2019. The zone commander wrote Cruz's performance was below standard and less than expected after he made one DWI arrest.

"Your enforcement efforts will be monitored with an immediate expectation to see an increase in your performance," Captain Steven C. Graap wrote.

But also in 2019, a notice of suspension. The I-Team discovered Cruz himself was arrested for DWI. Police documents explain Cruz admittedly drank several beers, vodka and soda mixed drinks, along with shots of tequila, vodka and whiskey over a nine-hour period.

Cruz then got behind the wheel of his own vehicle on I-190 southbound in Buffalo, crashing into another vehicle. A passenger in the car he struck was transported to ECMC for injuries.

State Police wrote Cruz used "poor judgment" and suspended him for 90 days. He was put on probation for a year and told he could be fired in that time.

Cruz remains on the job, making nearly $130,000 a year.

"I don't think a 90-day suspension is a slap on the wrist," said Bruen. "That means no pay for 90 days. It means no health insurance. It means a lot."

Bruen added if a trooper is in that range of penalty, they are just short of getting terminated.

I-Team Investigator Ed Drantch: What would lead to termination?

Superintendent Bruen: Well, any number of things can lead to termination. There have been, you know, from ... Yeah, I mean, any number of things can lead to termination. I mean, I can think of one case where things where a weapon was misused, not as it relates to the public, just not safely dealt with. And that it was serious enough where that was termination.

Drantch: I just want to make sure that we're clear here, what would rise the level of dismissal?

Bruen: Again, everything is fact specific. It can be relatively minor, if you've done it 40 times. I'm trying to be — you know, a repeated minor act, where you've not taken it seriously can result in termination.

Since 2013, 35 troopers resigned while 34 retired in the face of termination, according to State Police. Seven have been fired.

"Baked into our core DNA is accountability. And so when you violate the rules, we investigate, if we're satisfied, you violated rules or regulations, we punish you," Bruen said.
"That means we have a system that results in discipline."

NYCLU seeks release of documents statewide

In 2020, state lawmakers repealed Civil Rights Law 50-a, which previously allowed law enforcement to shield the release of records used to evaluate performance.

But since that time, State Police have not widely released these records, often denying requests from news organizations and the public, citing requests as being too broad.

Earlier this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the State Police for the full release of these internal documents statewide.

Bobby Hodgson, a supervising attorney for the NYCLU, said the documents raise questions about the integrity of some troopers.

"I think it is often the case that that discipline is insufficient, or is certainly not designed to change the underlying behavior," said Hodgson.

He says there's a mountain of documents with claims that are "unsubstantiated." But he says no one in the public knows about it, and no discipline has been imposed.

"There must be the highest level of transparency around the systems that are in place to investigate how they might be misusing that power," Hodgson added.

The Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers told the I-Team it believes unfounded and unsubstantiated complaints should not be released to the public.

An I-Team analysis of Troop A's "founded" internal disciplinary documents reveal more than one in four, 27%, of troopers in Western New York, have been suspended or docked vacation days.

"That means the Division of State Police takes the conduct of their members seriously," said Bruen. "And if you break the rules, we punish you. We are not sweeping misconduct under the rug. In fact, we're documenting it."

Bruen's logic is because there are documents, there is discipline. The I-Team questioned Bruen, saying the public would not be aware of a trooper's discipline if not for the media coming forward and asking questions.

"No, I would say the public would know about it if we didn't do it," said Bruen.

7 News I-Team creates public database

State Police internal disciplinary documents are used by local district attorneys to test a trooper's credibility if they were to testify in court, and for Brady disclosure purposes.

Following the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must disclose evidence that would impeach the credibility of any government witnesses.

But in Florida, for example, a public database has been made where the public can see which officers have been disciplined and for what, shining a light on what is otherwise often kept in darkness in New York.

"You know, [a database] is a potential solution. But right now, we're undergoing the process of producing these records and getting them ready for the immediate need of the district attorney's office," said Bruen.

Superintendent Bruen: That's the main focus right now.

Ed Drantch: As opposed to the public trust or the public...?

Bruen: Well, the public trust has got to be served by the investigations, by the discipline process. And ultimately, yeah, the production of records.

"The public has an avenue through the FOIL process, and we believe that is the appropriate way to obtain troopers’ records," wrote PBA President Thomas H. Mungeer in a statement to the I-Team.

Because there is no public database, 7 News made one for you with Troop A's records we obtained from our source. You can see for yourself who has been disciplined and the accountability that followed.

Read the files of Troop A

List of disciplinary action received by active members of New York State Police Troop A as a result of their conduct. 7 News has not included conduct that resulted in only a written reprimand.


Ed Drantch

Ed Drantch is an Investigative Reporter and Sean Mickey is an Investigative Producer for WKBW. 

I-Team Photojournalist Jeff Wick contributed to the images and video in this report.

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