October 22, 2021

Interviews in 2019 campsite theft draw focus

Cortland County Seal

A former lieutenant with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday in Cortland County Court that a man accused of stealing a tractor and farm equipment in 2019 worth more than $40,000 spoke to the office voluntarily and was not under arrest when he did so.

Santo E. Oliver, 47, whose last listed residence was 770 Route 221, Harford, was accused of third-degree grand larceny, third-degree criminal mischief, felonies; third-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, for his part in stealing a tractor and farm equipment off a campsite on Owego Hill Road in Harford on March 26, 2019, with Glen Brenchley III, according to court documents.

Todd Caufield, who retired from the sheriff’s office in June, answered questions Tuesday from Assistant District Attorney Christopher Simser and defense attorney Jerome Mayersak regarding two interviews between Oliver and Caufield from April 2019, before Oliver and Brenchley’s arrest, to determine how the sheriff’s office got statements from Oliver and whether there was any question about Oliver voluntarily speaking.

At issue is whether the statements can be used at trial.

Simser asked Caufield about how the interviews were conducted, in which Caufield said the sheriff’s office reached out to Oliver and asked if he would voluntarily speak with him about what happened, to which Oliver agreed.

Caufield was also questioned about the second interview conducted with Oliver and why that was done.

Caufield said Oliver was contacted again by the sheriff’s office as Oliver was starting to provide new information and Oliver wanted to make an amendment on the first interview — namely, that there was no one else helping the two after initially stating there was a man in his 30s with them when the items were stolen, according to Oliver’s second statement. He also apologized for his actions.

Mayersak then questioned Caufield on who made the initial contact and the contact for the second interview with Oliver.

Caufield replied that the first contact was made by other sheriff’s office investigators and he couldn’t remember for the second interview.

The length of each interview was also raised, with Caufield saying the first interview on April 1, 2019 lasted “a couple of hours” and the second one on April 3, 2019 lasted approximately one hour.

Judge David C. Alexander decided to reserve ruling on whether the interviews were voluntary because Mayersak wanted to reply in writing to a document Simser sent to him after saying he did not receive an email with it.

Alexander granted a written response for Mayersak due by Friday.

The decision whether to allow the interviews as evidence would be determined from there, Alexander said.