A New Lebanon High School student was arrested, arraigned and sent to the county jail March 24 because her cheerleading coach alleged she stole her uniform. The Sheriff’s Office did not identify the suspect, but her attorney, Terence Kindlon, confirmed yesterday that 16-year-old Amber King of Stephentown was charged with petit larceny.
“I’ve been practicing law for over 35 years now, and I have to say without hesitation this is the most absurd criminal prosecution I’ve ever seen,” said Mr. Kindlon from his Albany office.
Columbia County Deputy Sheriff Chad Shufelt, the resident deputy for this area, charged Amber March 24 at 8:35 a.m. According to a Sheriff’s Office report, Amber was a member of the cheerleading team and “refused to return her uniform when she was no longer affiliated with the team to the coach who personally owned it.” The Black family owns the uniforms and let cheerleaders use them, said New Lebanon Superintendent Karen McGraw.Penny Black, cheerleading coach, could not be reached for comment. She is the wife of county Emergency Management Director William Black.
The Sheriff’s Office said the school attempted to have the uniform returned, but Amber allegedly refused to comply with the request. Ms. McGraw confirmed the Blacks, not the school district, contacted police.
Deputy Shufelt met with Amber and her mother before a criminal complaint was signed in an effort to reconcile the situation, according to the Sheriff’s Office, but Amber “repeatedly refused to return the uniform. “The owner then requested criminal charges be filed and after consulting with the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office, the defendant was charged with petit larceny,” said the Sheriff’s Office report. Amber was asked to turn herself in and be issued an appearance ticket, according to the report, but she refused that request. Deputy Shufelt got a warrant for her arrest and Amber was picked up at her job here.
She was arraigned in New Lebanon Town Court before Justice Jack Nevers without a parent or attorney present, said Mr. Kindlon. Mr. Kindlon said that was permissible since Amber is 16. The District Attorney’s Office recommended $1,500 cash bail, said the Sheriff’s Office, but Justice Nevers sent Amber to the Columbia County Jail in Greenport in lieu of $1,000 and ordered her to return to court April 5. A call to the District Attorney’s Office was not returned before press time. But Mr. Kindlon was shocked to learn of what Amber went through.
“I’m disgusted,” he said. “She’s a kid. It’s a cheerleading outfit.”
Mr. Kindlon said if the owner of the uniform really wanted to take action, small claims court would be the appropriate place. He hopes to rearrange his schedule in order to appear with his client in Town Court Thursday. “The people prosecuting this case should be ashamed of themselves,” said Mr. Kindlon. “It’s appalling.” He hopes the case is thrown out as soon as possible. In the meantime, Mr. Kindlon said Amber is back at school.
“She’s a kid,” he said. “One-thousand dollars bail? What do they think, she’s a risk to the community? It’s an outrage.”
Joe Meyerson, chairman of the New Lebanon Democratic Party, called a reporter to express anger over the situation, taking specific aim at Justice Nevers, a Republican.“This is incompetence,” said Mr. Meyerson last week.“You have judges to protect people from the errors of sheriffs, school administrators and the wives of emergency coordinators who claim they own uniforms.”
Arresting a cheerleader for stealing her uniform, he argued, is like arresting a baseball player for stealing his athletic supporter. As for the school district, Ms. McGraw said New Lebanon would adopt a formal protocol for the way donations, including uniforms, are accepted. The matter was actually on her to-do list when she became superintendent recently. “We knew it was a place where we could have problems,” said Ms. McGraw.