Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour announced Friday that he has begun proceedings to fire a deputy who was charged with having sex with an adolescent girl 13 years ago, long before he joined the Sheriff's Office.
Deputy Kevin J. Rohde, 31, is entitled to a hearing, and the Niagara County Police Benevolent Association will request one, said James Briggs, the union's chief negotiator.
Rohde was granted youthful offender status April 25 in the wake of a guilty plea to endangering the welfare of a child. He was 18 years old when the alleged incident occurred in his home March 1, 1999.
Rohde entered a so-called Alford plea, which involves no admission of actual guilt. It is similar to a no-contest plea, which New York law does not permit.
Because the charge was a misdemeanor and a first offense, committed by someone 18 or younger, Lockport City Judge William J. Watson was required to grant Rohde youthful offender status.
The girl's father said his daughter's age at the time of the incident had been incorrectly reported as 15. He said Friday the girl was 13 then and is 26 now.
The father said Voutour contacted him to tell him of the decision to seek Rohde's firing.
"We're very happy the process is working its way through," the father told The Buffalo News.
The father had said after Rohde's sentencing last week -- a $200 fine and a one-year conditional discharge -- that he hoped Rohde would not return to his patrol job. Rohde was arrested last September.
Defense attorney George V.C. Muscato called Voutour's move "unfair."
"I believe Kevin and the union will proceed to arbitration, and I believe they'll win," Muscato said. "I think he's deeply disappointed he hasn't got his job back."
Rohde could not be reached Friday. Muscato said he may make the deputy available for interviews at some future date.
"He got youthful offender status, which by statute is not a conviction," Muscato said.
The union has 10 days to request arbitration. Briggs said he will meet next week with the union's attorney, Kathy Creighton of Buffalo, to get the ball rolling.
"His work at the Sheriff's Office has been exemplary," Briggs said. "It's unfair Kevin is being terminated."
Muscato said Rohde will be suspended without pay for 30 days. After that, his paychecks will resume, but he will be off duty. Rohde earned $61,000 last year.
Voutour's terse announcement read, "Today at 1100hrs, we have initiated the termination of Deputy Sheriff Kevin Rohde's employment with the Sheriff's Office, effective immediately in accordance with NCSO rules and regulations, county policy, civil service and the PBA union contract. No further details can or will be provided as we cannot comment on ongoing employment/ personnel matters."
"Kevin's a member in good standing. We're going to do what we can to protect his rights," said Deputy Timothy E. Callaghan, PBA president.