2 Montgomery County sheriff officers on paid leave from hit and run

Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato, right, and Walt Hadsell, a senior investigator for the New York State Police, left, hold a press conference at the Montgomery County Sheriff's office on Monday. Sheriffs arrested two of their own officers, Sheriff Investigator Roberto Gracia and Sheriff Deputy Theresa Pingitore, on Sunday following a hit-and-run incident that occurred on July 11. A special prosecutor has been assigned to the case. (The Leader-Herald/Josh Bovee)

FULTONVILLE – Two Montgomery county sheriff’s officers have been arrested and placed on paid administrative leave following a hit-and-run incident that took place last month. Sheriffs say a special prosecutor — Schenectady County District Attorney Robert M. Carney — has been assigned to the case which will pursue charges against investigator Roberto Gracia and deputy Theresa Pingitore.

The incident took place last month on Northern Boulevard in the town of Amsterdam. It is alleged that Roberto Gracia, a 15-year veteran Montgomery County investigator, was driving a personal vehicle on Northern Boulevard on the evening of July 11 around 9 p.m., when 18-year-old Julian Louscher, who was skateboarding on Northern Boulevard, was struck by Gracia’s car.

According to a news release, “Louscher was hit by the right front corner of the vehicle, rolling over the hood and hitting the windshield causing it to break.” Louscher received minor injuries, including “cuts and scrapes to his head, left shoulder and arm.”

A verbal altercation then ensued between Louscher and Gracia, during which time Louscher used a cell phone to take pictures of both the driver and the vehicle. Gracia then left the scene of the accident without reporting the incident to police. It is alleged that Gracia had a young child in the car with him at the time of the incident.

At approximately 12:45 p.m. on July 12, the sheriff’s office received a call from an unnamed individual — whom they presume to be a relative of the victim — requesting they perform a welfare check on Louscher. Responders, which included members of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office and the state police, then met with 18-year-old Louscher whereupon the incident was made known to police and an investigation was opened.

Gracia

“With further investigation, we found out that it was an investigator for the sheriff’s office that was driving the vehicle [that struck Louscher],” Montgomery County Sheriff Mike Amato said at a press conference on Monday. “We’ve been investigating for a couple of weeks. It took a little bit of time to get some forensic information back for us and as a result we arrested the deputy who was driving the car for leaving the scene and we arrested another deputy sheriff for failing to report the incident to us once they found out about it.”

Gracia has three charges pending including failure to report a personal injury accident, professional misconduct and tampering with evidence, a felony.

Regarding the felony charge of tampering with evidence, Amato said that “we felt that there might have been some things touched on the car. We had forensics done on it and our assumption is that something might have been done that warranted that charge.”

Amato stated that due to the length of time which had passed between the time of the accident and the investigation that there is no way of proving whether or not Gracia was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“We didn’t get the case until over 12 hours after the incident happened. So we cannot prove that he might have ingested anything while he was driving,” Amato said.

Pingitore

Further investigation of the Northern Boulevard location where the incident took place was hindered due to paving.

“Unfortunately, the road was repaved within the 24-hour period [between the incident and the investigation]. When we got there the road had been paved over. So it made it difficult for us to investigate,” Amato said.

Deputy sheriff’s officer Theresa Pingitore, a 29-year veteran of the department, has also been charged with professional misconduct as it was determined that through correspondence with Gracia, she had been made aware that the incident had taken place and failed to report it to the either the sheriff’s office or another police agency.

Investigators are unsure at this time if any other officers were involved but say they are “still looking into it.”

Gracia and Pingitore were both placed on paid administrative leave prior to yesterday’s arrests.

“July 12 is when we found out about this. Yesterday afternoon is when we arrested them. When the investigation commenced and we found out the level of their involvement we felt that it was better that they were not serving at that time until we cleared this up,” Amato said.

Special prosecutor Robert Carney was assigned to the case due to the “professional relationship” between Montgomery County District Attorney Kelli McCoski and the defendants Gracia and Pingitore. State police are also aiding in the investigation.

Amato stated that prior to the incident there had been “no major concerns” with either Gracia or Pingitore.

“It’s very difficult. I’ve worked with these people for many years,” Amato said. “We haven’t really had any problems with these two people at all. So it’s very tough. This is my office and this is a reflection on the sheriff’s office. So I’m hoping that we’ll be able to move ahead on it.”

COMMENTS