The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Forest Protection was found to have a pattern of “supervisory shortcomings” according to a report from the NYS Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro’s office.
The report focused on an investigation into the alleged misconduct of forest ranger Charles Richardson. It states that he not only had “inappropriate sexual encounters while on duty on at least two occasions,” but also stole gym equipment from the DEC to use in Black River Training Company, a commercial gym which he co-owns in Boonville.
The investigation, which began in July 2019, also alleged that he worked as a part-time police officer in Boonville during the hours he was supposed to be working for the DEC. According to the report, Richardson also failed to fulfill the Division’s residency requirement. His file listed a friend’s address as his own and he purportedly commuted 170 miles each way from his home in Boonville. According to a release from Tagliafierro, Richardson performed his supervisory duties over the phone and was rarely physically present in Region 8 while on duty.
The report also details that Richardson failed to promptly submit required biweekly reports for 23 weeks in 2017 and 2018. Other than being counseled for his late timesheets in 2017, the report states that no other disciplinary action was ever taken.
In response, Daniel De Federicis, the executive director and counsel at the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, said that the report "unfairly accuses [Richardson] of unproven allegations.”
“Not only is this PBA fully backing Chad Richardson, but many of his fellow Rangers are backing him, and several made financial donations to help him during his period of suspension. This would not happen if they felt the allegations against him were true," De Federicis said. "The Inspector General’s report painted a negative picture of him based on allegations that were uncorroborated, and in fact, in some cases, refuted by other evidence. The PBA of NYS feels confident it will effectively refute these allegations when we have the opportunity to present the complete facts that for whatever reason the Inspector General’s report did not include or address."
The report goes on to document other "systemic failures" beyond Richardson's case.
“The Division of Forest Protection’s rangers are tasked with protecting New York’s invaluable natural resources – a job that demands accountability and effective leadership,” said Tagliafierro in a statement. “My office found instead systemic failures including unsupervised and undisciplined rangers conducting personal business on the taxpayers’ dime.”
According to a release, some forest rangers reportedly had no direct meetings with their supervisors for several weeks and when they failed to file mandatory reports on their activities, supervisors neglected to address it.
The release also stated that the residency policy was inconsistently interpreted or completely disregarded, which enabled “super-commuting,” and created situations where rangers would not have been available to respond to emergencies in time.
“The Division has since enacted significant reforms to ensure that those tasked with protecting our forests are continually held accountable for performing that role with integrity,” Tagliafierro said.
The DEC reported that it took disciplinary action against Richardson in response to Tagliafierro’s findings. A new acting director was appointed to lead the Division of Forest Protection in January and a new deputy commissioner of public protection was appointed in April to oversee law enforcement divisions and improve procedures.
The Division of Forest Protection oversees five million acres of public land and natural resources. Forest rangers are responsible for suppressing forest fires, managing state lands and resources, issuing tickets for offenses and conducting search and rescue operations.