Suspended PAB director sues agency, city seeking reinstatement to his position 

click to enlarge Conor Dwyer Reynolds, executive director of the Police Accountability Board, is currently on administrative leave pending an independent investigation into personnel issues at the agency.

PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH

Conor Dwyer Reynolds, executive director of the Police Accountability Board, is currently on administrative leave pending an independent investigation into personnel issues at the agency.

Conor Dwyer Reynolds, the suspended director of Rochester’s Police Accountability Board, has filed a lawsuit against the agency and the city of Rochester seeking an end to his involuntary leave and reinstatement to his position.

In a petition filed with the state Supreme Court, Reynolds argued that the Police Accountability Board ran afoul of state open meetings law by willfully conducting meetings in secrecy. He argued that an April 27 meeting organized by an unknown person to “solicit and aggregate criticisms of Reynolds” was attended by either six or seven board members and also cited an April 28 “social get-together” organized by board member Drorah Setel for board members to discuss Reynolds’ performance.

Those discussions began, the petition claimed, after Reynolds informed Shani Wilson, who was the board’s chair at the time, that he planned to report her for sexual harassment.

“Under the Open Meetings Law, the Board’s deliberations and decisions regarding
these ‘issues’ rendered the event a public meeting,” the lawsuit reads. “Yet the public was never made aware of this April 28 meeting. It was never publicly noticed. There is no recording of it. There are no minutes for it.”

The petition also referenced the May 12 Police Accountability Board meeting during which board members approved his suspension. That meeting consisted mostly of an executive session that was closed to the public. The petition argued that “the Board flouted the (Open Meetings Law) with the express intention of hiding a wrongful process.”

While New York Open Meetings Law does require government agencies to conduct legislative and board meetings in public, the members can initiate an executive session through a simple majority vote. State law does allow boards to enter closed sessions to discuss certain matters, including the suspension of employees; the bodies are prohibited from voting during an executive session if that decision involves the appropriation of public funds.

The petition was filed July 12 by Reynolds’ attorneys, Alison Frick and Alana Kaufman of Kaufman, Lieb, Lebowitz, and Frick in New York City. On June 17, Frick sent a letter to the Police Accountability Board asking for Reynolds’ immediate reinstatement. She claimed that an unnamed person within the agency misrepresented herself as a spokesperson for the board when she brought concerns about Reynolds to the City Council and the city’s human resources department. The person single-handedly engineered Reynolds’ suspension, she argued.

“While it is unclear if the city ever took the simple steps necessary to verify whether this employee in fact represented all staff, we believe that her claim to do so was false,” the memo reads. “That the apparent basis for his suspension was likely misleading further supports his immediate reinstatement.”

Reynolds was suspended on May 13, though the city and the PAB still have not disclosed the reason he was placed on administrative leave. Reynolds has maintained that he was never notified of the reason for his suspension.

In the weeks following the suspension, the City Council voted to initiate an independent investigation into the situation and to freeze hiring by the PAB. Reynolds also published an article on the blogging site Medium alleging months of sexual harassment by Wilson, who then resigned in June. She was replaced by Larry Knox, a political coordinator with the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

Reynolds maintained in both the lawsuit and the blog post that his suspension was retaliation for alerting Wilson he planned to report her for sexual harassment. He claimed that after he told Wilson of his intentions, she told him “I’m going to hurt you, because you hurt me.”

But a second complaint against Reynolds, filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights by PAB attorney Chenoa Maye in early May, paints a different picture.

In the document, obtained by CITY, Maye accused Reynolds of mismanagement and fostering a hostile work environment. She stated that staff were “sitting idle” without any clear guidance and that Reynolds referred to one agency employee who had not passed the bar exam as a “staff attorney.”

“Mr. Reynolds has used manipulation of staff, procedural interference and outright lies to curate a work environment overwhelmed by confusion, tension, and paranoia,” the complaint reads.

The letter also claims that when Reynolds was approached in regards to workplace issues on May 5, he became “desperate and hysterical.”

Reynolds’ petition asked a court to order the Police Accountability Board to state that it violated open meetings law and to void Reynolds’s suspension.

City Council members expect the independent investigation into PAB they initiated to be completed in the coming weeks.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].
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