Tompkins County Sheriff Derek R. Osborne reported his arrest of one of his deputies, Zachary Starner, for perjury in the first degree, a Class D Felony.
Following the arrest, Starner was issued an appearance ticket ordering his appearance in the City of Ithaca Court on March 3 at 9 a.m., in accordance with bail reform regulations.
The arrest stems from testimony Starner gave upon being called as a defense witness in a 2019 criminal trial involving rape allegations against another deputy. During that trial, Starner made sworn statements regarding his conversation with a New York State Police Investigator assigned to the case. Starner testified off-duty and without notifying Osborne. However, while on the stand Starner identified himself as a Deputy Sheriff and close friend of the defendant. The defendant in the case was acquitted by a jury.
Shortly after trial, on 09/25/2019, Osborne placed Starner on administrative leave for the purposes of investigating his potential misconduct during the investigation of the alleged rape and ultimately served him with a Notice of Discipline (NOD) alleging misconduct. That misconduct charge led to an arbitration hearing on 01/06/2021, during which Starner testified in his own defense. At that hearing, while under oath, Starner directly contradicted statements he made during the 2019 criminal trial regarding his conversation with the New York State Police Investigator.
Upon reviewing transcripts of Starner’s sworn testimony, Osborne served him with a second NOD seeking his termination. The latest NOD was followed up by Starner’s arrest on today’s date. Starner has been on paid administrative leave since 09/25/2019 as required by the Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff’s Association’s collective bargaining agreement, which is affiliated with the New York State Union of Police Associations.
Osborne stated, “This behavior is both morally and legally reprehensible, and does not reflect the values I require of my office. It also runs counter to the beliefs and great work exhibited by the other wonderful men and women who work here. I also apologize on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office to all those involved in the case”.
Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino stated, “We recognize and share the public’s concerns that oftentimes officers are placed on paid leave pending investigations and that justice is served slowly in these cases. I applaud Sheriff Osborne for making the decision to pursue charges beyond the notice of discipline.” Molino continued, “Part of our ongoing reimagining public safety work directly addresses officer accountability, and we will continue to advocate for and institute policies that allow for more swift and direct discipline of officers.”
Starner's attorney, Daniel Strollo, reached out to the Ithaca Times with a statement as well, alleging that Starner is being punished because his testimony resulted in an acquittal.
"Deputy Starner is not facing this charge because he committed a crime - he’s facing this charge because he told the truth in a trial, and the truth ultimately resulted in an innocent man being acquitted," he said. "It is bewildering that the Sheriff and the District Attorney would seek to prosecute a defense witness after losing a high-profile trial. Their actions will have a chilling effect on justice for years to come - witnesses will unquestionably hesitate to come forward and testify for fear of prosecution if the trial doesn’t go the prosecution’s way.
"Deputy Starner is a military veteran who has selflessly served his community through his over ten years in law enforcement. The charge against him is absolutely baseless, and we will vigorously defend these false allegations in court."