By LIZ BUTTON
Former Rye Police Benevolent Association president Timothy Chittenden was found guilty of eight traffic infractions on Jan. 29 that may cost him his license, concluding a Rye City Court traffic case that has been going on for almost two years.
Chittenden, who is in the process of filing an appeal, has alleged that the trial has been marred by shaky testimony from police and an attempt to make an example out of the former cop.
The judge’s decision, in which charges stem from a vehicular incident that occurred on New Year’s Day in 2012, ends the most significant high-profile traffic ticket case contested in recent memory, according to City Attorney Kristen Wilson.
“There is nothing preventing a person from being found guilty of more than one traffic infraction as a result of one event,” Wilson said. “It is not completely out of the ordinary to be issued three or four tickets after one incident, if you’re having a bad day.”
That said, 10 tickets is the most Wilson has ever seen given out for one incident, at least in her experience arguing cases in Rye City Court over the last seven years.
Chittenden, who now finds himself at odds with the police union he once headed, contested the 10 traffic tickets he received early in the morning of Jan. 1, 2012, when Rye Police Officer Christine Incalcatera, after she was sent out on a burglar alarm call around 5 a.m., saw Chittenden driving his Jeep Cherokee in excess of the 30 mile per hour speed limit and failing to signal turns.
In part, Chittenden is at odds with the Rye PBA, headed by Officer Franco Compagnone, over a lawsuit that was resurrected last year alleging that Chittenden stole $179,000 in PBA funds during his time as treasurer.
In her Jan. 24, 2014 post-trial briefs for People v. Chittenden, Wilson said Chittenden, as a former police officer, should be held to a higher standard than others and requested that the maximum penalties be imposed.
Over the two years of the case, which began in spring 2012, Wilson said, Chittenden, tried to adjourn the trial dates numerous times, but last month, the judge denied the final adjournment requested. Mayo Bartlett, Chittenden’s attorney, said he informed the judge at the time his client was ready and willing to testify, but was experiencing health issues.
In his Jan. 29 decision, acting Rye City Judge Brian Hansbury ordered Chittenden to pay $1,140, and added 15 points on his license. In New York, a driver who gets 11 or more points in an 18-month period has his or her license suspended or revoked.
According to Incalcatera’s testimony in court, the desk officer on the night in question, Latoya Anderson, received a burglar alarm call at 6 Overdale Road, but instructed Incalcatera, mistakenly, to go to Glendale Road to check on the house.
Bartlett said when “Officer Incalcatera testified, she contradicted herself in a number of ways,” including in this instance. These contradictions, he said, came out during cross-examination.
For example, the audio tape transcript of the call indicates Incalcatera asked Anderson a way to get to Overdale Road via Glendale, he said, but in her testimony, Incalcatera testified that she thought she was being directed to Glendale Road, on the opposite side of town.
The prosecution argued in post-trial briefs that, “although there were an inordinate number of questions by defense counsel, the testimony is clear that Officer Incalcatera proceeded to Glendale Road instead of Overdale because that is where she was directed.”
While going to look for the house address, Incalcatera testified that she observed a Jeep Cherokee pull out of Gypsy Lane and take a left on Glendale at a high rate of speed and started to follow it because she suspected it might be involved in the burglary case. Incalcatera testified the car was going around 45 miles per hour, based on mentally estimating her own speed, that the car failed to stop or signal at the North Street intersection, and, driving on, failed to do so again at the intersection with Theodore Fremd Avenue.
Bartlett said another contradiction is that, while Chittenden was charged and found guilty for three separate tickets for failing to obey posted speed signs, in fact, there are no posted speed signs along the route that he drove, but Wilson argued that Chittenden should have known the enforced speed limit was 30 miles per hour, since it was 30 at the time Chittenden, who retired from the department in late 2009 after being out for years on disability, was an officer and has remained the same to this day.
Incalcatera testified she activated her lights and siren once she got onto North Street, but Chittenden did not pull over as he turned off onto Hammond Road, where he then allegedly ran into his home, located at 2 Hammond Road.
According to her testimony, Incalcatera said she sent the 10 traffic tickets by mail, but, after calling for backup, did not arrest Chittenden at the time. Chittenden’s attorney argued his client was never served any of the summonses and Chittenden only found out about the tickets when he was informed months later that his license was in danger of being suspended. The eight traffic tickets Chittenden must pay by Feb. 28 are for three counts of disobeying a traffic control sign, three counts of not signaling, driving an unregistered vehicle and not wearing a seatbelt. One of the 10 charges was dropped, and Chittenden was also found not guilty of one of the original 10 charges, which was for failing to properly yield to an emergency vehicle.
Bartlett said it seems to him there is some ill will toward Chittenden in the city, which was demonstrated when he came to court.
For example, he noted he has seen other defendants get much lighter sentences from the city for much more significant traffic offenses.
That ill will, he said, may also exist because Chittenden also filed a complaint with the court alleging that his wife was threatened by current PBA president Compagnone outside the court house on June 13, 2013.
There are other events that occurred during the trial that created a sinister atmosphere, Bartlett said, such as when then City Councilman Richard Filippi was observed sitting in during one of the days of trial. A vehicle and traffic case is not something Bartlett said he could imagine a councilman would have an interest in.
“It actually sets it in a chilling light,” Bartlett said.