NEW ROCHELLE, NY — A meeting of the Culture & Climate Committee of the New Rochelle Board of Education got a bit heated on Wednesday.
During the public comment period on March 27th, Westchester County Legislator Damon Maher became heated in his questioning of Sergeant Amery Bernhardt of the Westchester County Police Department Patrol Division, School Resource Officer Unit.
Bernhardt was asked by the Committee Co-Chairs, New Rochelle Board of Education President Jeffrey Hastie and Vice President Amy Moselhi to give a presentation on SRO training and the role of an SRO in schools.
Maher aggressively questioned Bernhardt as if he were a hostile witness in a murder trial. He made a number of statements attacking Bernhardt personally, leaving most of the Committee members unsure how to react.
Maher was particularly upset about what he claimed was a Westchester County Police Department practice of sharing information about students with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The WCPD has no such policy.
Maher spoke about racism and implicit bias by police against students.
The meeting ended sooner after at which point Maher confronted this reporter about our publishing his statement in full when he replied to our request for a statement on the matter of Rony Rosario-Ramirez, a Guatemalan man illegally present in the United States accused of child rape. Rosario-Ramirez pleaded guilty last Friday on a reduced charge and is now ICE custody facing deportation.
Maher wanted to know why we asked him for comments on the Rosario-Ramirez case, asking whether we intended to ask him about every crime in New Rochelle or “just those where ICE has alleged undocumented status for the accused, with or without having obtained a judicial warrant?”
We explained that we asked Maher for comment because he represent New Rochelle at the County level, the Immigration Protection Act is a County law, and that Maher enthusiastically supported.
Reached for comment, Maher said he attended the Culture and Climate Committee meeting after he was invited by Yolanda Valencia who previously worked for Jim Maisano as his Personal Legislative Aide, and now holds the same position under his successor, Terry Clements.
Maher said Valencia, who he has known for years has a child in the high school school and has been active on the committee formed after the school violence in 2018.
“She and I have been debating the pros and cons of full-time police in schools — she for, me against — and she wanted me to hear both sides, so I agreed to attend,” said Maher. “As what, I don’t know. Concerned citizen or public official? It wasn’t made clear.”
“There’s a whole email chain, including one from me, setting out everybody’s opinion of what I was doing there and what my agenda was.”
UPDATE: Westchester County Department of Public Safety Police Benevolent Association President Michael Hagan has written a letter to BOL Chairman Benjamin Boykin calling for Maher to be removed from the BOL Public Safety Committee
Hagan cited what he called Maher’s “outrageous comments” which “indicate his bias towards, and contempt for, the law-enforcement community.”
“Basically, some people don’t like the questions I ask and/or my tone when I ask them,” said an unapologetic Maher.