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Town officials in Bethlehem search for police chief's alleged racist conversation

Cocchiara was eventually promoted to patrol sergeant on Aug. 18, 2008. She is the town's first female police sergeant and is now an 11-year veteran of the Bethlehem Police Department.

"It has become apparent through some very deep reflection and discussions with my peers that I have been unfairly discriminated against in this process," Cocchiara wrote to the Town Board in 2007 after not being promoted. "I am concerned that my actions and courage to achieve justice may result in future disciplinary or punitive measures against me."

Hughes said the Cocchiara situation last year only highlights a pattern of discrimination and "punishing those who speak out."

Cunningham said that diversifying the town's police force has been a longtime goal of the town.

"Both my predecessor and I have encouraged diversity on the force, but we have to hire off of the Civil Service list, and an opportunity has not presented itself," Cunningham said. "It is something we are very cognizant of."

Hughes is currently out on "stress leave" until June 12, but he could be out longer. Although he was served the unpaid suspensions, he is in the middle of a union grievance process and therefore is still currently on the force pending the outcome of the grievance and permission from his doctor.

The Spotlight has obtained copies of both of the "notice of discipline," which effectively calls for Hughes' suspension, and both of the disciplinary grievances in response.

Hughes said on Sunday, June 7, that he received an official response from Cunningham's office that stated, "I agree with Deputy Chief [Timothy] Beebe," and that the "grievance was denied." The next step is arbitration, which Hughes said he was confident would go in his favor.

"The first suspension notice is ridiculous; it's not being taken seriously," Hughes said. "It sounds like the second one [the union] may actually sit down with them, but the charges are still nonsense."

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