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Police threat to health benefits cited by Delano lawyer Settlement talks described as detective's disciplinary hearing concludes

As suspended Cold Case Squad Detective Dennis A. Delano's disciplinary hearing came to a close Monday afternoon, his attorney contended that Police Department brass threatened to take away Delano's medical benefits during negotiations to settle the matter.

The tactic caused Delano to submit his retirement paperwork to the department about a month ago, documents he has since withdrawn, attorney Steven M. Cohen said.

In a previous meeting with Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and Assistant Corporation Counsel Diane T. O'Gorman, Cohen said, the two officials told Delano that he would lose his medical benefits if the arbitrator rules against him.

"She threatened to take my benefits," Delano, referring to O'Gorman, said during a break in the hearing Monday.

O'Gorman countered by saying that Cohen had asked about her knowledge of other disciplinary matters and that she had made no threat.

"I offered my opinion to him as a courtesy," she said.

Delano's disciplinary hearing, which began Jan. 27, concluded on its fifth day before Hearing Officer Thomas N. Rinaldo. It will be at least two months before the hearing officer announces his decision.

Department officials contend that Delano violated departmental policy and direct orders when he released video footage taken inside the home where police investigated the death of 13-year-old Crystallynn Girard in 1993.

Delano also gave WGRZ-TV, Channel 2, footage of a polygraph test administered to Dennis P. Donohue, who had been given immunity in the case but who Delano believes the evidence indicates was responsible for Crystallynn's death.

Pathologists and then-District Attorney Frank J. Clark said last February that a new look at the evidence led them to conclude that the 13-year-old Crystallynn had not been murdered but had died of a cocaine overdose.

Delano, 57, is a 24-year veteran of the police force. He was part of the Bike Path Rapist Task Force, which helped free Anthony J. Capozzi, a Buffalo man who spent more than two decades in prison for a series of rapes that investigators said he did not commit.

Police linked those crimes to Altemio C. Sanchez, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to three bike path murders.

Lynn M. DeJac, the mother of Crystallynn who had been convicted in her death, was also freed last year after more than 12 years in prison, thanks to the work of investigators, including Delano.

DeJac attended the entire hearing, which was held in Police Headquarters and was open to the public. She declined comment when the hearing ended Monday.

Delano's attorney argued throughout the proceeding that his client was seeking the truth, but was "opposed at every turn," frustrated by obstacles he faced in working the Crystallynn case.

Cohen also said Delano wanted any settlement to include an acknowledgment by the department that he had done nothing wrong in the Crystallynn case.

The department, which described the discussions between parties as a willingness to resolve the matter short of moving forward with the formal hearing, "was not willing to dismiss the charges," O'Gorman said.

Such discussions are typical in this type of matter, she added.

Cohen said he directed his client to submit his retirement paperwork in order to protect him and his family. If Delano retires prior to a ruling in the disciplinary matter, his benefits would be ensured, Cohen said.

The attorney said he planned to have his client submit the documents and then withdraw them just prior to end of the 30-day period, after which they would take effect.

Cohen said he told Delano to repeat this process until he finds out for sure from the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association whether the detective's medical benefits would be protected if he receives an unfavorable ruling from the hearing officer.

O'Gorman said that there have been previous cases in which arbitrators have taken away health benefits from clients who lose in their hearing.

Rinaldo will make a recommendation to Gipson, the police commissioner, deciding on Delano's guilt or innocence, and possible punishment. Gipson has the authority to follow the hearing officer's decision or make his own.

If Gipson decides that the detective should be terminated, Delano has the option of appealing through the courts, his attorney said.

The timeline for a decision is fluid.

Once the hearing transcripts are completed, attorneys on both sides have about 30 days to submit additional legal papers. Rinaldo's decision would follow in about 30 more days, though he said that extensions could be granted.

A decision will not take longer than four months, Rinaldo said.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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