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Watkins Glen police officer, wife say mayor retaliated after sexual advances were denied

Sgt. Brandon Matthews and his wife, Danielle, talk about the planned lawsuit and how the mayor retaliated after his sexual advances were denied.

Jeff Murray
Elmira Star-Gazette
  • Sgt. Brandon Matthews has been on administrative leave from the Watkins Glen Police Department since last August.
  • State police investigated allegations against Matthews but a grand jury declined to indict and the case file was sealed.
  • Matthews claims the suspension and investigation were retaliation after his wife rebuffed Mayor Luke Leszyk's sexual advances.
  • Matthews filed a notice of claim against the village and the mayor and his attorney is preparing a lawsuit.

A Watkins Glen police officer who remains on administrative leave and was the subject of a state police investigation is planning to push back with a lawsuit against the village and its mayor — claiming the suspension was retaliation after the officer's wife rejected the mayor's sexual advances.

The village in August placed Sergeant in Charge Brandon Matthews on indefinite administrative leave and asked the New York State Police to conduct an investigation, according to Mayor Luke Leszyk.

Leszyk at the time wouldn't say what allegations Matthews faced, pending the outcome of the investigation, but a Schuyler County grand jury in October declined to indict him on any criminal charges and the case file was sealed.

Sgt. Brandon Matthews

Now, the village is facing a probable lawsuit after Matthews, through Ithaca attorney Ray Schlather, filed a notice of claim for defamation, violation of civil rights and multiple other allegations.

A notice of claim is a precursor to filing a lawsuit. Elmira attorney Matthew Buzzetti has since taken over as Matthews' lawyer in the proceeding.

Leszyk said he couldn't comment on the legal action, adding he would prefer to see the matter played out in court first.

What the notice of claim from Brandon Mathews says

The notice of claim, which also names Matthews' wife Danielle and three minor children as claimants, alleges that Leszyk, a retired state trooper, wants to dissolve the village police department and have the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police take over law enforcement duties.

It also accuses Leszyk of suspending Matthews in retaliation after Leszyk allegedly made sexual advances toward Danielle Matthews and was rejected.

"In or around late November of 2019, Danielle was having dinner with some friends at Bleachers (bar/restaurant in Watkins Glen)," the notice stated. "Mayor Leszyk, a regular visitor of the bar, approached Danielle. Leszyk said to Danielle, in substance, 'If you want your husband to keep your job, you will do sexual favors for me.' Danielle emphatically said 'no' and made it very clear to Leszyk that she was deeply offended and alarmed by his crass threat.

"Leszyk then stated 'I guess you don't want your husband to have a job,' " the notice of claim continued. "There were several witnesses to this event. Danielle understood this to be a real threat to her husband's job."

The notice of claim also alleged that Leszyk has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, including other female employees at Bleachers.

A similar event occurred at Bleachers in February 2020 when Danielle was in the business with her daughter, the notice alleges.

"I was a bartender for 10 years. Over the years (Leszyk) has been improper with me many times, also other women," Danielle Matthews said in an interview with the Star-Gazette. "We tried to set up a protocol to deal with Luke's sexual behavior, to no avail. As his behavior became more aggressive and escalated, he threatened my husband's job. 

"I didn't want to rock the boat," she said. "We were doing things to try to make him stop."

It was after Leszyk threatened Brandon Matthews' job that Danielle decided to no longer remain quiet about his behavior, she said.

In a separate interview with the Star-Gazette, Bleachers owner Bob Decker said nobody ever came to him to complain about Leszyk's alleged advances.

"(Danielle) never said anything about it. (Leszyk) is still a regular. He's one of my good friends," Decker said. "I'm also good friends with Danielle's family. Nothing was said to me about this, otherwise I would have told him to leave. It was a surprise to me when I heard about it."

It was shortly after the February incident that state police started an investigation into Brandon and Danielle Matthews with Leszyk's support, according to the notice of claim.

Search warrant served for Watkins Glen home during investigation

In late July, state police executed a search warrant at the Matthews' Watkins Glen home with more than 20 officers, a K-9 unit and a helicopter to inspect the property, the complaint stated.

Watkins Glen Mayor Luke Leszyk

As a result of that search, which the notice characterized as "an excessive and unreasonable display of force," the minor children, including one who suffers from a severe intellectual disability, were reportedly traumatized.

The village placed Sgt. Matthews on indefinite administrative leave in early August.

After a grand jury found no basis for prosecution, the village reportedly demoted Matthews from sergeant in charge to patrol officer, resulting in a pay cut.

"The village and Mayor Leszyk have misused, used and attempted to use the criminal justice system to accomplish the improper collateral objective of punishing Danielle and Sgt. Matthews for Danielle's rebuffing the mayor's sexual advances and threats, and to further the village and Mayor Leszyk's goal of dissolving the police department," the notice stated.

Brandon Matthews said he still has had no contact with village officials about his status since he was placed on administrative leave over the summer.

"I have not been contacted to come back to work. Nobody from the village has contacted me about a demotion or salary cut," he told the Star-Gazette. "I had my pay decreased. I noticed they were no longer paying me my sergeant's pay. They didn't demote me until the board meeting Oct. 21."

Pay stubs provided by the village in response to a Freedom of Information Law request show Matthews' net pay for the two-week period ending Aug. 6 was $2,501.77, and most of the checks prior to that date were between $1,800 and $2,500.

The Aug. 20 paycheck was for $1,628.16, and subsequent checks have been between $1,400 and $1,600.

What is Brandon Matthews asking for in the legal action?

The legal action seeks an unspecified amount of financial restitution for pain and suffering, economic loss, legal fees in excess of $10,000, loss of reputation and community standing, public humiliation, mental anguish, stress, anxiety and fear.

The claim says an award of punitive damages is also warranted under the circumstances. 

The notice of claim is required before a lawsuit is filed to give the village an opportunity to resolve the matter without going to court.

To date, the village has offered no response, said Buzzetti, who said he is in the process of moving ahead with the lawsuit.

Matthews remains on administrative leave, according to Buzzetti, who added the board of trustees this week hired another officer to take his shift and position.

With the additional hire, the Watkins Glen Police Department — the only municipal police force in Schuyler County — has four full-time police officers, two school resource officers, and five part-time officers.

Matthews has been a member of the Watkins Glen Police Department since June 2006.

He has no previous allegations or complaints of misconduct in his personnel file, according to Village Clerk Lonnie Childs.

Brandon and Danielle Matthews hope for several outcomes from the lawsuit.

"We hope other women will get encouraged to come forward. I think things like this have happened to other women," Danielle said. "We did nothing wrong. We were put in a position that's unfortunate and very politically motivated. 

"Some things can't be taken back," she said. "Brandon's reputation will always be ruined."

For his part, Matthews isn't looking to find a new job or relocate, but he's waiting to see how the lawsuit turns out.

"I have no plans to resign or any reason to," he said. "I grew up in this community. My goal is to serve this community. With this mayor, that might be difficult to continue. All things are on the table."

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