ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A group of employees from the Rochester Police Accountability Board is calling for Acting Manager Duwaine Bascoe to be terminated, amid what they call “significant management issues plaguing the agency.”
Bascoe responded in a statement from the PAB Wednesday, calling on the New York State Attorney General’s Office to launch an investigation into the board’s suspended Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds.
Bascoe was named PAB acting director in May, after Dwyer Reynolds was placed on administrative leave. In a series of letters addressed to board leadership, members say Bascoe has “stoked and enabled an atmosphere of harassment, intimidation, retaliation, and confusion” in the months since.
They cite the suspension of PAB Chief of Policy and Oversight Michael Higgins as the most recent in a series of “unjust” losses.
“Members of PAB staff have recently made complaints to Mr. Higgins about Mr. Bascoe’s mismanagement, misconduct, and incompetence,” they wrote. “Given Mr. Higgins’ suspension, the undersigned urgently need to discuss these issues with the Board in a formal setting in order to bring transparency, promote accountability, and fulfill the mission that the people of Rochester have charged us with.”
Higgins sent an open letter to Rochester City Council Wednesday, saying he submitted a whistleblower complaint claiming Bascoe was “intoxicated by drugs or alcohol” at a staff meeting on October 3.
“To date, the City has not contacted me about my complaint and apparently taken no action to investigate this incident to which there were over 20 witnesses and contemporaneous electronic evidence,” Higgins said.
Bascoe released a statement Thursday, saying his migraine medication “can cause changes in the pattern and rhythm of speech.”
“I strongly maintain that I was not impaired, drunk, or high and Mr. Higgins’ allegations
are a baseless attempt to defame me,” Bascoe said. “I believe Mr. Higgins’ statement about me was made in retaliation to recent decisions around his employment with the PAB.”
In a letter dated October 11, 18 members of the PAB request Bascoe be terminated and replaced by Associate General Counsel Anthony Durwin until an independent review into Reynolds is completed.
They also request all members of the PAB be included in future discussions related to the board’s executive director position, and that anyone who was fired or resigned under Bascoe be offered their job back.
“It is the strong opinion of the undersigned that these individuals were unjustly terminated or subjected to unreasonable working conditions,” they wrote.
In his letter, Higgins says he remains “ready and willing to continue serving the mission of the PAB.”
The members additionally call for a “firing freeze” to stave off what they refer to as “further retaliation and intimidation from PAB management.”
But in a letter from the PAB itself Wednesday, Bascoe accuses Dwyer Reynolds of meeting with members of the PAB and the Police Accountability Board Alliance during his ongoing suspension.
“Collusion and interference with a governmental investigation is a crime. It’s beyond time for this agency to address this matter head-on and to finally bring these known issues out publicly,” Bascoe said.
Dwyer Reynolds spoke with News 8 after Bascoe levied the accusations against him Wednesday.
“Yesterday, a majority of employees made a public call to fire current PAB management,” Dwyer Reynolds said. “Making ludicrous, defamatory statements about me is a transparent effort to distract from that fact. I have fully cooperated with Council’s investigation. It is long past time for PAB management to listen to the demands of their employees and take responsibility for their own actions.”
Rochester voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to create the PAB, with 75% voting in favor of the measure back in 2019. Since then, the board has been stripped of its presumed authority to discipline officers, lost former chair Shani Wilson to a sexual harassment scandal, accused Rochester City Council of “trying to take over,” and accused the city of preventing the agency from adequately investigating complaints.
In the Wednesday letter from the PAB, Bascoe says he plans to address the issues within the organization by bringing in a consultant to help develop a three-year plan, creating a seven-person task force in the agency to investigate the PAB’s organizational culture, and hiring a mediator.
While Mayor Malik Evans is not affiliated with PAB in any way, he did respond to recent developments on Wednesday, “What I’m concerned about is taxpayer money being used wisely, which is the only role I really have in any of these conversations related to police accountability board, and I look forward to hearing from city council the next steps they will be taking,” he said.
City Councilman Willie Lightfoot told News 8, “As one who helped draft the police accountability board I’m very disappointed in what I’m seeing.”
“I think we really have to come back to the community, and say, ‘Okay community, what do you want us to do really, because at the end of the day the community wanted this, we gave it to them,” said Lightfoot.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.
Read the October 6 letter
Read the October 11 letter
Read the official PAB response
Read the open letter from Michael Higgins
Read Bascoe’s response
Statement from Rochester City Council President Miguel Melendez
“All of the issues raised in the letter are HR-related and there is a process we must follow for personnel matters. At this moment, we have an ongoing independent review that we’ve already committed to regarding the PAB and its staff. That must conclude before we can move forward. New issues are being raised and in the interim, we will follow City policies and procedures as defined and dictated by the Department of Human Resources & Management.”
Statement from Rochester City Councilmember Stanley Martin
I stand in solidarity with the workers employed at the Police Accountability Board (PAB). Under trying circumstances, 18 members of the PAB have organized themselves to address workplace hostility and mismanagement, in order to ensure that the PAB is functional and equipped to serve members of the Rochester community.
With courage and guided by a commitment to the principles of transparency and accountability, rank and file staff of the Agency came together to make their voices heard, and to advocate for changes that will ultimately preserve the integrity and longevity of the institution. As a member of City Council, I received their letter and support their requests.
I believe it is the duty of the Board to respond to the serious concerns raised by the staff, and to take action in defense of this essential agency of City Government. The workers of the PAB are in dire need of protection. In light of these revelations, I cannot support any new staff being brought into the Agency, until the issues raised by the majority of staff have been thoroughly investigated and appropriately addressed.
In addition, I support any efforts by these and all workers to unionize, and will encourage the Administration to recognize their union. I once again applaud the courage of the staff members who are committed to saving the institution our community fought to create, and to bring Rochester the accountability it so desperately needs.