Chenango County Sheriff's Office Marks 226th Anniversary And Recognizes Staff
Published: March 22nd, 2024
By: Tyler Murphy

Chenango County Sheriff's Office marks 226th anniversary and recognizes staff Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting welcomed families and thanked sheriff office employees for their dedication to the community at an annual award ceremony in Norwich. More photos on page 10. (Photo by Tyler Murphy)

CHENANGO COUNTY – The Chenango County Sheriff's Office celebrates its 226th anniversary on Friday, March 22.

On March 8 at the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, an annual award ceremony was held by the office recognizing members of law enforcement, corrections, and the civil divisions for their contributions.

Commendations were presented by Chenango County Sheriff Ernest R. Cutting and awards were selected by a committee.

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He also thanked staff for working hard to achieve NY State accreditation.

“Accreditation is a tremendous undertaking, there are like 166 standards we have to comply with for accreditation,” he said, “There are also over 3,500 other minimum standards that they have to meet in order to get correctional facility accreditation.”


Sheriff's Office Administrator Kim Smith was recognized with the distinguished Joseph J. Benenati, Jr. Award.

“Former Sheriff Joe Benenati was really an icon in public safety. In the history of this town, he was truly a remarkable man. He has done so much for the sheriff’s office over the years, and some of that stuff was really immeasurable. The Benenati Award is probably the most prestigious award that we give out, and sometimes we don’t even give the award out,” said Cutting.

“Kim Smith is my administrative assistant. I’m telling you, she’s my right-hand. She’s the boss. She does so much. Pistol permits, the pink slips for staff if they're out sick or injured, she looks after time sheets, and there’s 130-some staff,” said the sheriff. “There’s so much that she does, organizing this event, the New York State summer camp and our summer camps.”

The Sergeant Michael R. Friot Award was presented to Corrections Sergeant Brian Wright. The special corrections division honor is earned by exemplifying professionalism.

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Corrections Lt. Tracy Rotundo thanked Wright, saying, “The individual who is receiving this award has taken a lot of additional responsibilities throughout the year. He trains and gives guidance to all staff. He often comes in early or stays late to help with any departmental needs. He is eager to learn anything that you are willing to teach him, and he often comes into my office to see what needs to be completed or to just talk about how the shift has gone.”

Public Safety Dispatcher Alesha Hesse was recognized as Civilian of the Year for exemplary service.

Rotundo said, “This individual has been with the corrections division since 2021. She routinely ensures that paperwork is completed and appointments are scheduled. She also assists in speaking with medical departments for inmates being transferred to prison or psychiatric centers. Any time that staff calls her for paperwork or to check on appointment statuses, she is always helpful.”

Deputy Cole Rifanburg was named Officer of the Year in Law Enforcement for exemplary service and professional distinction.

Patrol Lt. Jeffrey Barton said, “Deputy Rifanburg comes to work every day with energy, enthusiasm, and the willingness to learn. He was an integral part of numerous case arrests, and was in the top three of all stats involving arrests and traffic violations.”

CO Thomas Steed was named Corrections Officer of the Year for exemplary service.

“This officer has become an officer who is very proficient in booking. In 2023 he became a field training officer and has become a critical part in developing new staff during the training phase,” Rotundo said. “He works every post in the jail, including central control and doing transports. He has shown that he can handle stressful situations and make decisions regarding the inmate population with the knowledge of policies and procedures.”

Public Safety Dispatcher AJ Burke was commended for saving a life in the Syracuse area.

“He was in a restaurant and saw someone choking. AJ stepped up and performed the Heimlich maneuver and saved this woman's life as she was choking. Outstanding job,” said Cutting.


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A number of investigations and the officers involved in them were also highlighted and recognized.

On December 20, 2023 in the Town of Oxford, members of the Chenango County Sheriff's Office observed a man lying on the floor in the back of a vehicle in an attempt to conceal himself by hiding under seats and automotive parts during a traffic stop. The man was identified and had an active arrest warrant issue by the Town of Oxford Court. The warrant was related to a prior incident where the suspect evaded police during a separate traffic stop.

The investigation further revealed the man was in possession of over two ounces of crack cocaine and just under four ounces of crystal meth, and approximately 1,150 wax envelopes with fentanyl. He was also found in possession of packing material, scales, and over $2,000 cash.

“All indicating the distribution and sale of drugs in Chenango County,” said Cutting.

In another case on December 28, 2023, during a traffic stop, an investigation and search discovered a bong, three ounces of meth, packaging materials, a scale, and large stash of cash along with a loaded handgun, which had been reported stolen.

In December of 2023, the sheriff's office executed a search warrant in Smithville. Officers located a suspect hiding in a room within the residence. The man was wanted on a warrant for first degree reckless endangerment relating to a September incident where he allegedly fired a handgun at a vehicle with a passenger inside, hitting the vehicle multiple times. The investigation also uncovered drug sales from the suspect's home, which resulted in a search warrant. The sheriff's office recovered heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and several handguns.

On October 24, an elderly couple was attacked by a man who then fled their residence.

The sheriff said the suspect was acting as a home healthcare aid for the elderly couple and assaulted the victims in the late hours of October 23, and early hours of October 24. The suspect forced the victims to turn over their debit cards, sign checks, and stole the couple's vehicle. EMS transported the victims to the hospital with very serious injuries, said Cutting.

A felony arrest warrant was filed. Detectives tracked the suspect to Pennsylvania and then back to New York, where he was located in Broome County. He was arrested by the Broome County Sheriff's Office and sent back to Chenango County.

“This was a very brutal assault on this elderly couple,” said Cutting.

On August 8, just before noon, 911 communication center received a call of shots fired at a residence along Highway 220 in the Town of Smithville. Units responded and saturated the area, and an hour later the suspect was located and taken into custody.

The suspect was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, two counts of reckless endangerment, and menacing.

“In this case this person had obtained a rifle and was shooting at a guy across a field on a tractor, we were called and she had taken off into the woods. Officers saturated the area, we used some of the technology we have, like our drones, got them up in the air and actually found the person about three quarter miles from the incident. But again, it's attention to the detail. Great job,” said Cutting.