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A Greece police sergeant quit while under investigation. He's claiming whistleblower retaliation

A group of residents in Greece are trying to urge the New York State Attorney General to investigate the town's recent property assessment.
Gino Fanelli
A group of residents in Greece are trying to urge the New York State Attorney General to investigate the town's recent property assessment.

A former Greece police sergeant is suing the town, claiming he faced retaliation after he tried to expose a potential coverup of then-Chief Andrew Forsythe’s drinking and driving crash.

Bryan Root, a 13-year veteran of the department, claims in a lawsuit filed Friday in New York state Supreme Court that he was turned down for promotions and singled out for misconduct investigations, leading him to resign in October 2023.

“(The Greece Police Department) suspended him and opened an internal investigation, eventually causing (Root) to be constructively discharged as he believed he had no chance for advancement and (the department’s) retaliation would not stop,” the complaint reads.

But the department alleges Root resigned while under investigation for spending an inordinate amount of time at home during his shifts.

Neither the town nor Root’s attorney, Maureen Bass, responded to requests for comment.

Root’s complaint is the latest event in the ongoing fallout of Forsythe’s crash. Forsythe resigned and four officers were suspended, including Root, who received the longest suspension. He is the second officer to sue the town. Last year, former Deputy Chief Casey Voelkl filed a federal complaint alleging he was retaliated against for raising concerns about the crash's handling.

The Forsythe crash

Forsythe crashed his department-issued SUV in the early morning hours of Oct. 21, 2021. He struck a guardrail on Interstate 390 and proceeded to drive another six miles on three wheels, according to an investigation of the crash.

Forsythe resigned several days later and pleaded guilty in December 2021 to driving while ability impaired.

In November 2021, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley had called for an investigation into the Greece Police Department’s handling of Forsythe’s crash. That outside investigation later showed that the department violated 22 internal rules that morning, including failure to follow basic police procedures, like conducting a field sobriety test or giving proper commands to subordinate officers.

Michael Wood, who has a three-decade track record New York law enforcement to take over the Greece Police Department. The department has been in the midst a scandal centered on former chief Drew Forsythe's alleged driving incident in October.

Among the key findings: An unnamed officer was described as performing a “rogue investigation,” in which he leaked photos of the accident to former Chief Pat Phelan, who then leaked it to the media a few days after the crash. The investigation also said that the officer shirked the town whistleblower policy, which requires immediate notification of the administration for such complaints.

The complaint filed by Root contends that he was that officer.

And during the three months between the crash and the investigation's completion in late 2021, Root claims he was passed over four times for promotion to lieutenant.

The complaint claims the town’s attorney told Root, after he was interviewed by the outside investigator in December 2021, that leaking the information was "egregious in bringing great embarrassment to the town and Police Department."

Root was then suspended for 30 days.

"I looked into the matter and believed that my supervisors and the town officials were involved in a cover-up," he wrote to the state last November. "I did not know what to do and reached out to a retiree/mentor and he said he would handle it. He, with others, communicated with the press and the District Attorney's Office, including providing a picture of the vehicle that I had taken. Every action that I took was in good faith and with my belief that I was doing the right thing."

He returned to work in February 2022 and, a month later, filed a notice of claim against the town. A notice of claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. In it, Root raised the claim of retaliation and allegations that he was continually being passed over for promotions.

“At this point, (Root) recognized that the (department) would continue to retaliate against him for refusing to go along with the cover-up on the chief's crash and for purportedly ‘suing the Town,’” the complaint reads.

It would be another year and a second suspension before Root was pushed to resign from the department.

A second suspension and Root’s resignation

On July 17, 2023, town Supervisor Bill Reilich received an “anonymous letter” that claimed that there was an illegal gambling operation on Old Country Road in Greece. The letter also said Root’s department vehicle was in his driveway on the same road “six hours a day,” according to a summary of the department’s internal investigation obtained by WXXI News through an open records request.

The Police Department opened an internal investigation, tracking Root’s movements while on duty. By monitoring his phone and email usage, investigators found that in 151 shifts, Root stopped home 181 times. There allegedly were 30 shifts where he stopped home more than once, and 43 stops that were more than an hour.

Interviewed by the department last August, Root often could not account for why he was home during his shifts, investigators said. Root was suspended with pay that day pending the final results of the investigation.

Last September, Root sent a letter to department leadership claiming that he did not know there was a policy preventing a supervisor from stopping home during their shift.

“I have irritable bowel syndrome and need to be aware of available bathrooms in case I need them. At or around this date, I recall stopping at my former residence during shifts to (1) use the bathroom, and (2) eat,” Root wrote in the letter. “I also let my dogs out to use the bathroom. During those times, I routinely kept my radio and phone on while I supervised subordinates and made sure that all calls were answered.”

In filings with the state, he claims that he routinely worked from home during his eight years as sergeant, never receiving complaints. And he noted the internal review reached back as far back as early 2022 to document his time at home.

Root resigned on Oct. 19, while still on suspension in order to “get on with his life,” the lawsuit states. And, he hoped, to find a job with another department.

That effectively ended the investigation, records show. But a final report was nonetheless prepared and sent to Police Chief Michael Wood on Oct. 30, finding violations of department policies.

Greece police allegedly sought Root’s decertification with the New York state Department of Criminal Justice Services, a standard procedure when an officer is fired, resigns, or retires. And the lawsuit alleges that the department filed Root’s separation stating it was the result of misconduct and submitted the investigation findings.

The department told the state that Root was "removed for cause" citing misconduct, records show. Under New York state law, when an officer is fired or quits under allegations of misconduct, their basic training certification also is immediately revoked. An officer removed for cause is not permitted to retake the state-mandated basic training to work in law enforcement in New York.

Root wrote to the state to challenge his decertification, records show, prompting the state to seek clarification and additional documentation from Greece. In a Dec. 5th letter to the state, Chief Wood wrote that, “following an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct (by Root) evidence supported a notification of removal for cause.” Wood attached a summary of the department's internal investigation.

The department had proposed a settlement with Root in September in which he could resign and end the internal investigation, according to exhibits filed with the lawsuit.

Root is asking for lost wages and change in his decertification classification.

Includes reporting by investigations and enterprise editor Brian Sharp.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.