We wish to direct everybody’s attention to the photo above. It was taken during the 2015 election cycle. The people in the photo were surrounding Chief Richard Vasquez as he made the announcement that he was a candidate in the November 2015 election for Rockland County Sheriff. The people in the photograph were all members of the Rockland County Correction Officer’s Union; some were members of the union’s executive board at the time.
Those whose faces are covered with a black circle have suffered extreme consequences for their public support of Chief Vasquez on that day, as we shall describe in more detail below. For example, because he was exercising his right to support the candidate of his choice, one person who is in the photograph was taken aside by Sheriff Falco’s son, Sergeant Falco, who gave him the stare-down while remarking “Vasquez, huh?” That officer has since resigned. Such is the power of nepotism in the Corrections Department!
This is not the America protected by its constitution; this is political tyranny.
At the time the picture was taken, the Correction Officers’ union had pledged to endorse Richard Vasquez for Rockland County Sheriff. It was a bold step for the union to not endorse the current Sheriff, Louis Falco. However, this decision was made as a result of a union meeting, wherein union members elected to endorse Richard Vasquez on a vote of 69 out of 70 in attendance.
The union leadership felt that they had to act in the best interests of the union members and their families. Morale was at an all-time low because the general opinion of Sheriff Falco was that he was treating the corrections officers unfairly, mainly due to a series of contractual violations that he implemented without regard for the officers’ rights.
Sheriff Falco was constantly trying to break the contract without proper negotiations. An example of this would be when he moved a female officer to a shift that had no other female officers in order to avoid paying overtime. This directly contradicted the officers’ contractual ability to bid for shifts based upon seniority. Falco was able to accomplish this as the female officer would likely not object due to her probationary employment status. He then tried to rotate the remaining female officers to other shifts with staggered days off to accommodate the department without regards to their seniority. This also illustrates his blatant gender discrimination. Falco was willing to sacrifice the female officers without regards to their well-being.
Sadly, upon winning re-election, Sheriff Falco took immediate, radical and unprecedented steps in enforcing strict letter-of-the-law discipline within the correction officer ranks. He set course to demean, humiliate and financially harm any of the workers that took a public stance against his candidacy.
We have decided to tell this story so that the residents of Rockland may know and understand who is in charge of THEIR Sheriff’s Department. We never thought that this could happen in the present-day U.S.A., but we were wrong!
Through decades of fair labor negotiating, our union, just like many other civil service unions throughout the country, had set up defined ‘progressive-step discipline’ agreements. These labor agreements were negotiated with and honored by all of the sheriffs who came before Falco. For the most part, they were even honored by Falco himself prior to winning his last election and prior to him realizing that he has lost the support of many who had previously held him in high regard and who had supported his election four years before.
Since November 2015, Sheriff Falco has made sure that a lot of heads have rolled. We submit that this was purely political retribution and we will outline why we believe so below.
Immediately after his November victory, Sheriff Falco started to vigorously “supervise” correction officers by scanning all of the records from the surveillance video cameras that are placed throughout the jail. Of the many cameras we have in the jail, Sheriff Falco paid a high level of attention to the ones that were set up in the suicide watch section where hours are long, the duty is tedious, and where it is very easy to find technical infractions of procedures.
Part of the suicide watch patrol includes having the correction officers enter their observations of the inmates in a log journal. The entries are made every fifteen minutes and account for the inmates’ actions that occurred during the previous fifteen minutes. It is monotonous work, but this is set forth by the New York State Commission of Corrections.
Officers on suicide watches have to maintain constant and continuous supervision of the inmates. Officers are required to note what the inmate is doing on a fifteen minute interval. On an overnight shift, the inmate may be sleeping for most of the time and the practice of officers who are continuously observing them is to bring their log books up to date, not on the exact required minute, but at a time which could be half an hour or even later. The logbooks are beside the officer who is recording them.
According to routine practice, sometimes 45 minutes can go by and the officer would then put three checks in the log noting ‘inmate lying on bunk’. However, if an inmate’s condition or behavior changes, for example he has a medical situation occur or he is taken out of his cell, then the officer would record the exact time of such an event and what occurs because the log books are then critical pieces of evidence should anything untoward occur such as the inmate becoming involved in an altercation.
Typically on the overnight shifts, the officers are observing an inmate on a continuous basis for eight hours with only two short breaks, or ‘reliefs’. If there is no change in an inmate’s status, completing the logbook entries at more variable intervals than on the strict fifteen minute requirement has been normal practice. In following this practice, it is clear that the officers are not falsifying documents or defrauding anyone by doing the logbook entries slightly before or after they are formally due. If we are being honest about this matter we could ask the current chief who has come up the ranks, or any retired uniformed staff member, whether or not this has indeed been the past practice. However, this is the practice that Sheriff Falco has cited when choosing to charge some officers (and not others) with felonies for “tampering with a legal document”.
Fairly frequently, due to housing unit activity or other situations, the officers may not make their entries at the specific time that the entry becomes due. When that has happened, the normal corrective action is that a supervisor who has noticed the late or missing entry would simply remind the officer to complete the log.
Beside the log book entry procedures, there are standard procedures where the Housing Officer (the person who runs the housing block) assists a Precautionary Officer who is assigned to watch multiple inmates. Having been assisted by the Housing Officer, a Precautionary Officer sometimes records that a required check was made. Yet Sheriff Falco has opted to charge officers with allegedly falsifying documents because the check that was recorded by the Precautionary Officer was not the check that the Precautionary Officer made himself. The policy for the procedure by which a Housing Officer and a Precautionary Watch Officer interact clearly states that “the Housing Officer is to assist the Precautionary Watch Officer as needed”. To charge that an officer who is being assisted by another officer is feloniously “falsifying documents” which accurately record that a required check had indeed been made is a further example of the sheriff’s outlandish vindictiveness.