GENEVA — When asked how he felt suspending an officer who was later arrested, Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua’s answer was blunt.
“It sucks. More than anything, it’s disappointing,” Passalacqua said during an interview at his office Thursday, about 24 hours after one of his officers — Jack Montesanto — was arrested for allegedly choking a woman while she was being booked at the public safety building. “This isn’t someone who we took in as a lateral transfer, knew nothing about and had no ties to the area. I knew him going back to high school, about 20 to 25 years. Knowing a person that well makes it that much worse.”
While he didn’t go into detail on the alleged incident, Passalacqua recounted the events that led to Montesanto’s arrest. They started shortly after midnight on July 23, when Montesanto and at least one other Geneva PD officer responded to a Main Street apartment building after someone called 911 to make a noise complaint against the woman.
Passalacqua said the woman was eventually charged with a noise violation and disorderly conduct, also a violation, which Passalacqua said can include “rambunctious behavior ... and using obscenities.” He said it was a joint decision by Montesanto and the other officers, who he declined to name, to take the woman to the public safety building for booking.
Passalacqua said the woman was taken to the booking area, where her “pedigree information” including name and address, were taken. Passalacqua said due to the alleged offenses against her, both violations, she was not fingerprinted.
According to the criminal complaint against Montesanto, which was produced by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, Montesanto is accused of choking the woman with his right hand, causing her to lose consciousness temporarily. He faces a charge of criminal obstruction of breathing, a misdemeanor.
Passalacqua declined to say what prompted the alleged incident.
“Now is not the time to get into that. It will probably come out at some point,” he said. “He will get his day in court. She will get her day in court. I can’t say who else was in the room and how it got broken up.”
The woman, who Passalacqua said did not seek medical attention at the time, was taken to the county jail and arraigned. The Geneva City Court did not provide the criminal complaint against the woman Thursday, with a clerk saying it only had the complaint against Montesanto.
Passalacqua said he learned of the alleged incident two days later (July 25) during an administrative audit, and started an internal personnel investigation. He suspended Montesanto with pay and contacted the sheriff’s office for a criminal investigation.
“It’s muddy water and bad business to investigate criminal complaints within our own walls,” Passalacqua said. “For transparency, we wanted a clean investigation and the sheriff’s office provided it.”
Montesanto, 40, was hired by the Geneva PD in August 2009 by then-Chief Frank Pane, who retired in 2011. Reached by phone Thursday, Pane said he did not remember Montesanto well.
Pane believed Montesanto transferred from a sheriff’s office and worked on the night shift in Geneva while Pane was chief.
“It’s a sad thing to see,” Pane said.
Passalacqua did confirm that Montesanto was demoted from sergeant to patrol officer last July by then-Chief Jeff Trickler. Passalacqua said under section 50-A of state Civil Rights Law, which covers police officers, corrections officers and firefighters, he is barred from saying the reason for the demotion.
“Some people want that section of the law changed,” he said. “Until that is done, I cannot legally comment on reasons behind demotions.”
Trickler did not return a call from the Times.
Montesanto, who lives in Farmington, was arraigned Wednesday at the county jail and pleaded not guilty. He was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to be in city court Monday morning.
Clifton Springs Justice John Maslyn — who handled the arraignment — granted an order of protection for the alleged victim, who was only identified by the initials “ML.” Maslyn also ordered Montesanto to surrender his firearms.
Montesanto has been suspended, with pay, pending outcome of the case. Passalacqua called Montesanto a “good cop” before the alleged incident, but said he made it clear last summer when he became chief that his officers would be held to the highest standard.
“I got that message across from the outset ... that I expected nothing short of the way I handled myself during 17 years on the job,” he said. “The human side of this plays heavy on us. Not just me, but all the department.”