A decade-old allegation of sexual misconduct has come back to haunt one of Ulster County’s most prominent lawmen, leading to criminal charges and a potentially career-ending scandal.
On June 28, Town ofUlster Police Chief Matthew Taggard was arrested and charged with a single misdemeanor count of official misconduct. Taggard was arraigned in Saugerties Village Court and released on $1,000 bail. As a condition of bail, Taggard was required to turn in all firearms in his possession. He is also required to remain within Ulster County“during the pendency of this action,” according to a release last Thursday from the Ulster County District Attorney’s Office. He is scheduled to return to court July 16.
Later the same day, in an emergency session, the Ulster Town Board voted unanimously to place Taggard on paid administrative leave pending the case’s disposition. The board also voted to appoint Lt. Anthony Cruise “Officer in Charge” of the department.
“Right now, the situation is very fluid,” said Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III.
Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright and other officials have been tight-lipped about the allegations against Taggard. In the June 28 press release, Carnright stated that the official misconduct charge was based on an allegation that Taggard “was aware that sexual crimes were being committed in an adjoining jurisdiction and failed to take any steps to prevent same or to notify the appropriate authorities.”
But in comments following Taggard’s arrest, Carnright said the charge was rooted in an earlier investigation of the veteran lawman by state police. According to the DA, the allegations against Taggard surfaced 10 years ago and involved criminal sexual misconduct with underage victims. At the time, state police investigators conducted a number of interviews but never made an arrest.
“That investigation was closed,” said Carnright. “But recently information came to light about that situation which led to these charges being filed.”
Quigley: We knew about investigation
Taggard who had been a lieutenant in charge of the patrol division was promoted to Chief following a unanimous vote of the Town Board in October 2010. Taggard was elevated over his then-boss, Deputy Chief Joseph Sinagra, and against the wishes of retiring chief Paul Watzka, who had recommended his deputy for the post. (Sinagra later went on to become chief of the Town of Saugerties Police Department.) At the time, Quigley and other town officials lauded Taggard for his keen sense of the issues facing the department, tireless work ethic and string relationship with the rank and file.
This week, Quigley also said that he and the rest of the town board were aware of the old allegations against Taggard while they were making the decision on who should succeed Watzka. In fact, Quigley said, he personally spoke with the state police investigator who carried out the probe and conveyed the substance of the conversation to fellow board members before the vote on Taggard’s promotion.
“The case was closed because [state police] couldn’t substantiate any of the information,” said Quigley. “The consensus of the board, based on that information, was that these were just rumors.”
Former town supervisor Nick Woerner said Monday that he too was aware of the state police investigation of Taggard. But, he said, he regarded the case as closed and the allegations unsubstantiated. Woerner said he and other town officials were reluctant to give the rumors too much credence, in part because of a successful lawsuit by a former Town ofUlstercop who claimed that his promotion was blocked based on similarly unsubstantiated allegations of domestic violence.
“[The investigation of Taggard] was something that a great many people were aware of,” said Woerner. “There are rumors and allegations, but until they’re substantiated, they’re just that.”