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2015-11-24 / News

Walton Man Cleared of Criminal Drug Charges

Lillian Browne
Online Editor

William Picinich, left, and his lawyer, Kevin O'Brien, of Albany, exit the Walton Town Court on Thursday, Nov. 19 after the disposal of charges against him. William Picinich, left, and his lawyer, Kevin O'Brien, of Albany, exit the Walton Town Court on Thursday, Nov. 19 after the disposal of charges against him. WALTON - A Walton man, who lost his job delivering senior meals and a volunteer coaching position due to an arrest on drug charges in September, had his day in court on Nov. 19 after pleading to a violation of the law. That violation, according to Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup, is not considered a crime.

William J. Picinich, 53, was arrested on Sept. 15 following an anonymous tip received by the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office. Subsequent to the tip, deputies enlisted the assistance of the New York State Police Aviation Division and Community Narcotics Enforcement Unit (CNET) to perform aerial surveillance of Picinich’s county Route 23 property which ultimately resulted in his arrest. He was charged with unlicensed growing of cannabis, unlawful possession of marijuana and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. A warranted search of Picinich’s property by deputies, troopers and Delaware County Probation officers yielded four marijuana plants and Suboxone.

Picinich appeared in Walton Town Court this afternoon before Judge Paul Laauser for the disposal of the charges, which resulted in Special Prosecutor Jon Blechman of Binghamton asking Laauser to allow Picinich to plead guilty to the unlawful possession of marijuana charge, a violation of the Penal Law. “The People will be satisfied by a plea of the violation in full satisfaction of all charges,” Blechman said. The arrangement was reached, Blechman said, after conferring with Picinich’s attorney and Sergeant John DeMeo of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department, who Blechman said was “on board” with the resolution of the case.

Blechman reiterated to Laauser that the charge Picinich was pleading to was not a crime. Rather, he said, it is a violation of the law.

The county’s chief prosecutor, Northup, explained a violation. “It’s more akin to a traffic ticket, except that even traffic tickets have more serious consequences - a substantial fine, mandatory surcharge, and points on your license, which usually affect your insurance rate,” Northrup said.

Typically, Northrup explained, first offense violations result in a $100 fine and are “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal” after six months. That means that once the six months expire, the record is sealed and there is no way the police, the prosecutor or a court will know about the charge.

A violation such as the one Picinich pled to, according to O’Brien, is like getting a parking ticket.

O’Brien said he and Picinich considered not accepting the plea deal offered by the prosecution because there was a plethora of errors made by law enforcement throughout the course of the investigation. Of the police work in the case, O’Brien said, “It was a joke.”

The first problem with the case, O’Brien contended, was that it originated with an anonymous tip. “That alone should cause pause and scrutiny,” he said. “We don’t know who allegedly called it in, if anybody.”

Anonymous tips give far too much deference to police to make things up or react to information that may not be true, he said. Of anonymous tips, O’Brien said, “An anonymous source is always bad. There is really no way to vet it and there is no way to confront that person, which is one of our essential rights.”

O’Brien said the arrest operation cost taxpayers upwards of $20,000, between the use of the helicopter for aerial surveillance and the 10 - 14 officers at Picinich’s house for several hours.

O’Brien said that he is bothered by the investigative work which he characterized as “really terrible.” As an example, O’Brien said that when police showed up at Picinich’s home, that Picinich invited the police in and welcomed them to search his home and his property. “He had nothing to hide,” he said. However, the police still obtained a signed warrant, which O’Brien said “...was compete garbage and would have been thrown out in a hot second.”

Picinich suffered, O’Brien said, because of shoddy police work. “They (police) were not held accountable. They are not apologizing to Mr. Picinich which, quite frankly, he deserves,” O’Brien said. The arrest cost Picinich his reputation, O’Brien asserts.

“Unless people start pushing back on these types of things and unless attorneys start pushing back, that’s what we are going to continue to experience,” he said.

O’Brien suggests that people start really looking at charging documents and paperwork filed by police. “I’m not disparaging law enforcement as a whole, but any of the cases that I’ve handled here, the paperwork is not sufficient in any way,” he said.

Attorneys, O’Brien said, are afraid to speak out because they are afraid that the cops are going to be mad at them. “Especially in small communities,” O’Brien said. People develop relationships and stop pushing back against law enforcement, he said. “It’s not an attack on them personally, but their job was garbage here. It was comical once I started looking at it,” he said. “They just did a lousy job here and when that happens we, as defense attorneys and as citizens, need to push back and not go in and plead guilty because we are afraid,” he said. If people continue to act with fear, he said, they are going to continue to get “nonsense” from law enforcement, courts and prosecutors.

O’Brien said that Picinich has an ongoing civil lawsuit against former Walton police officers, some of whom are now members of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office. “In fact, he was put into the back of one of the sheriff’s vehicles with one of the named parities in the lawsuit, which is completely inappropriate and which tells me that there is something more to this - especially when you take into consideration that ‘anonymous’ source,” he said.

“When somebody takes on the police, like Picinich has, they can be a vengeful bunch,” O’Brien said.

Picinich said he was willing to “fight the charges” to full dismissal given his prior interaction with police. He was acquitted of charges that he resisted arrest and obstructed governmental administration following a jury trial in the village of Walton court on Oct. 30, 2014. He was arrested by Sergeant John Cornwell formerly of the Walton Police Department on Feb. 1, 2013 outside of Danny’s Restaurant on Gardiner Place. Picinich was placed under arrest after being directed to step away from a vehicle driven by his wife, who was detained at a traffic stop outside the restaurant.

Picnich said he feels as though the drug arrest was an act of “revenge” by the police for the lawsuit. Picinich said he would like police to be disciplined and held accountable when they do something wrong. “When these guys do the wrong thing, they get promoted,” he said.

The plea to the unlawful possession of marijuana charge which resulted in the disposal of all of the charges, does not result in a criminal record. Picinich was fined $100 and ordered to pay a $125 civil penalty as part of the plea arrangement.

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