Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
Apr. 23—OGDENSBURG — Nearly five months after the incident, city officials have obtained video footage of the alleged physical confrontation between the mayor and a now-former city fire captain that led to the mayor being charged with harassment.
About a month ago, City Manager Stephen P. Jellie filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the state Office of Court Administration to acquire video footage from outside City Hall on the night of Dec. 9, 2020.
Mr. Jellie received the footage from the state last week and shared it with the Times. This is the first time video footage of the incident has been released.
It’s alleged that as Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly was walking into City Hall that night to attend a special City Council meeting called to pass the city’s 2021 budget, he pushed former city Fire Capt. Gerald H. Mack to the ground. Mr. Mack was suspended from the city fire department at the time, pending an investigation for disciplinary reasons, according to Mr. Jellie. Mr. Mack has since retired from the fire department.
On Feb. 17, Mayor Skelly, 61, was formally charged with second-degree harassment in connection with the incident. State police leveled the charge against him. The mayor was arraigned March 16 in Fowler Town Court and pleaded not guilty. He was scheduled to appear in court again Tuesday, but due to a lawyer scheduling conflict, the hearing was rescheduled for May 18.
“It’s not true and I’m going to fight it,” Mayor Skelly said of the charge in February.
The camera that captured the incident is mounted to the left side of City Hall — at the corner of Ford and Caroline streets — and faces north on Caroline Street toward the St. Lawrence River. Mr. Jellie said the city had to file a FOIL request for the video because the court system owns the camera that recorded the video.
No police were present at the time of the alleged confrontation as city police had responded to reports of a stabbing elsewhere in the city at the same time, Mr. Jellie said. State police arrived on scene shortly after the incident.
The camera captured the incident between the mayor and Mr. Mack, which took place outside the side entrance of City Hall on Caroline Street.
“I hope the video tells the story for me that I’m innocent,” Mayor Skelly said Wednesday.
In the video, the mayor is seen entering the frame from the right after arriving at City Hall. Mr. Mack is seen standing in front of a small step at the side entrance, blocking the mayor from entering the side door. The mayor is captured approaching Mr. Mack, and a few seconds pass before Mr. Mack is seen falling backward onto a small platform in front of the side door. The sign he was holding flew into the air.
The mayor then steps around Mr. Mack to the right and Mr. Mack is seen picking up his sign, getting back on his feet and blocking the mayor from entering the building. Mr. Mack goes out of view for a few seconds before he steps out of the mayor’s way, allowing him to enter the side entrance to the building without hesitation.
The night of the incident, the mayor claimed Mr. Mack told him: “If you touch me, you are getting arrested.”
Mayor Skelly remains steadfast in his claim that he never touched Mr. Mack. He said the video “tells itself.”
Mr. Mack said Thursday that when Mayor Skelly approached him that night, the mayor said: “What? You’re gonna block me now?”
The former city fire captain said the mayor then proceeded to lower his shoulder “a bit” into Mr. Mack, which was when he went backward.
“I had established myself where I was,” Mr. Mack said. “He drove up in his vehicle and I was standing there before he even got out.
“He could’ve walked up to anybody,” Mr. Mack continued, “but he walked up to me.”
After watching the video Thursday, Mr. Mack said it’s “pretty simple” to see what happened.
“I don’t know how (the mayor) thinks (the video) exonerates him,” Mr. Mack said.
The incident resulted in Mr. Mack requesting a restraining order against the mayor, which was granted during the mayor’s March 16 arraignment. The restraining order remains active.
Mr. Mack and a crowd of protesters were gathered outside City Hall that night because the city’s then-proposed 2021 budget called for, among other things, eliminating seven fire department positions. The budget was ultimately passed and five layoff notices were issued for city firefighters as one captain — Mr. Mack — had opted for retirement and another firefighter was out on leave at the time. The layoffs went into effect Jan. 1. Four of the five laid-off firefighters have since been reinstated.
Jacob E. Thornton is the last remaining laid-off city firefighter. Mr. Thornton will remain at the top of the civil service list for the city fire department for four years — meaning if an opening becomes available within the department, Mr. Thornton would be the first one called back.
Mr. Mack said he’s filed three workplace violence claims with the city, one of which is in connection with the Dec. 9 incident. Two of the claims are leveled against the mayor, while the third claim is lodged against Mr. Jellie.
In an email Wednesday night about the city’s investigation into a number of workplace violence claims, Mr. Jellie confirmed that one of the 12 complaints received by the city in 2020 alleged physical contact and occurred on the night of Dec. 9 between Mayor Skelly and Mr. Mack.
Mr. Jellie said the complaint was immediately reported to state police for investigation.
“The city’s investigation of this matter found no intentional contact or threat of violence,” Mr. Jellie said.
The mayor’s case remains pending in Fowler Town Court.
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