Editor’s Note: This story was made possible through an interview on the Wet Couch Radio Podcast. The Village of Watkins Glen responded to a request for comment on this story, but declined, noting that they do not comment on open personnel matters.
A Watkins Glen woman is speaking out about what she describes as long-term harassment and abuse at the hands of Village Mayor Luke Leszyk. The harassment predated his time as mayor, but only worsened after being elected to the village post. That news was unearthed in local podcast called ‘Wet Couch Radio’ where Danielle Matthews shared her family’s experience. The pattern of harassment and sexual advances coincided with her husband’s ouster as Sergeant in Charge at the Watkins Glen Police Department.
“Luke always has kind of said things that were inappropriate, or, you know, that, I guess, under different circumstances, you wouldn’t expect to hear,” Danielle said during the lengthy interview. Leszyk was a state trooper and she was a bartender at Bleachers Sports Bar. “So I obviously didn’t know him before becoming a bartender at bleachers,” she continued. “You know, he would make comments about my appearance – it would kind of step up a notch by him inappropriately touching me … I don’t know how to say it politely, but you know, grabbing my butt or asking for hugs and wanting to press my breasts up against him.”
During the interview, Danielle said things escalated aggressively. “I came out of the cooler with a case of beer in my hands. And he came out of the back bathroom, which is an employee bathroom, and just started to try to fondle me. I told him to get away from me and I was able to get out front,” she recounted. “I told him as long as there’s no cook in the kitchen that he’s not welcomed in the kitchen, when I’m back there to grab supplies for the bar.”
Danielle said that she wasn’t the only employee who had those kinds of encounters with Leszyk, who had not yet been elected mayor. “We have an area at the entrance of the bar where the bartender can come in-and-out of; and Luke quite often would come to that area and touch whoever was bartending,” she continued. “It got to the point where the owners did say things to him.” She called it a ‘continuous thing’ for employees at Bleachers, who had to contend with Leszyk in that way. “I can’t speak for those women, but it did not seem like they really wanted to be talked to or touched in that manner,” she added. “As a bartender, you learn to put up some tough walls to be able to deal with some comments that you have to hear, and I mean, the great thing is you usually have the ability to cut someone off or ask them to leave. With Luke it seemed like that was more of a struggle for us to be able to say.”
When he became mayor – Danielle says things got worse.
“I would say that I strongly felt like after Luke became mayor that his behavior became more aggressive,” she recalled. “It seemed like he, you know, threw around a lot of ‘I’m the mayor. You can’t talk to me like that’. I definitely felt like there was a change from when he was a police officer to the time that he became a mayor.”
The notice of claim alleges that Mayor Leszyk threatened Brandon Matthews’ job in front of a witness, if Danielle would not perform sexual favors for him. The incident is said to have occurred in the fall of 2019. “I had gone to Bleachers for dinner with friends, and we were sitting there – chatting and having dinner – and Luke looked at me and said ‘If you don’t do sexual favors for me, your husband won’t have a job’,” she said in the interview. She immediately responded saying ‘No’ to which Mayor Leszyk responded, “Well, I guess you don’t want your husband to have a job.”
It culminated at a Bleacher’s New Years Eve party, where Brandon Matthews and Mayor Leszyk were having a conversation. Danielle says that Mayor Leszyk was speaking in a ‘very demeaning’ tone to her husband. “I said, ‘You know, you don’t have to sit here and listen to that’,” Danielle recalled. “I looked at my husband and just could see the torment on his face.”
She alleges that Mayor Leszyk didn’t deny the allegation, and instead leaned into it. “Yes he does. I’m the mayor. And that makes me his boss,” she recounted Leszyk stating. “After that threat it became consistent.”
Fast-forward to August, and that’s when the family’s home was raided. Her children and mother were present when around 20 officers convened on the property. That experience was traumatizing. She said that state police suspected that her brother, Raymond Brown, was growing marijuana on the property.
He was later arrested in connection with marijuana plants that were found on Townsend Rd. While they were not interviewed by investigators during the search- or afterward – both went before a grand jury.
In October that grand jury decided not to indict either of the Matthews’. Brandon was represented by defense attorney Raymond Schlather. The following statement was provided by Schlather in The Odessa File:
“By Notice of Dismissal dated October 6. 2020, the Schuyler County Grand Jury found that both Sgt. Matthews and Danielle Matthews, husband and wife, had done nothing wrong. The investigation was closed without charges. Under the circumstances, the Notice of Dismissal is under seal and cannot be released. This case illustrates how a false accusation and the subsequent lack of proper investigation and due diligence by the police lead to very real damage to reputations, especially in a small community. Sgt. Matthews and Danielle are hardworking, honest and decent members of the community. They deserve an apology.”
“I can say that [the charges] had nothing to do with anything financial, sexual, parental, abusive, or violent,” Schlather added when pressed on the nature of the charges.
Later that month Matthews was removed as Sergeant in Charge with the Watkins Glen Police Department. He’s still on paid leave as of January 30, 2021, but both Brandon and his wife, Danielle, have filed a notice of claim against the Village of Watkins Glen, as well as Mayor Luke Leszyk.
Communication has been sparse between the Village Board and Brandon Matthews’ job.
“He’s still on paid administrative leave,” Danielle said. “We have not heard anything from the village at all about him coming back to work, and actually the only way we really found out about the demotion from sergeant in charge to patrol officer was during one of the Zoom board meetings.”
Danielle says she holds on to a lot of guilt for how things have played out for her family, despite having been cleared of any criminal actions. “I wish that at the time, when the mayor had said this comment to me, that I knew better ways to protect my family,” she said during the interview. “I guess I kind of always kept in my head that my husband was a good police officer and that there could be nothing that could jeopardize or allow the mayor to take away his job. I think what comes with that is a lot of shame. As a woman, you want to protect your family, and your husband, and I just hold a lot of guilt because I believe that if I had figured out a way to, I guess, take care of that situation or bring light to it, that we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Danielle said it’s been emotionally draining going through the entire ordeal. “We had to fight for and prove our innocence to people every day,” she said. “We had to read horrific things said online. It was kind of a gut punch that the mayor was the first person to release something and leave out information that he knew would not make the story come across like it did. As a mother you want to do everything you can to protect your children and I have tried to do everything I can. My daughter has been bullied at school is now doing all online. My husband I’ve had to watch struggle tremendously with his dreams, career, reputation – just be crushed and ruined.”
As for the notice of claim, Danielle says it’s not about money – just accountability. “It’s not just about money. But nowadays, it does seem like in this world, the only way to be able to make people be held accountable for these kinds of actions is to actually sue them,” she said. “Going through this you find out information like if an employer sexually harasses your wife – that doesn’t protect your job,” Danielle said, thinking about the conflicts baked into the system, and how difficult it is for victims of harassment or assault to come forward. “Until it was really clear that my husband’s job wasn’t being protected – I felt like this was the only step we could take to find justice.”
RELATED: Read the Notice of Claim filed against Village of Watkins Glen, official
As her family struggles, Danielle hopes that other victims feel empowered to speak their truth. “Women need to be able to speak out more freely and not feel shame, or guilt, or whatever because ‘I am a bartender’ or anything,” she said. “I feel like we still have like a really big fight against how women are treated. In situations, whether it be your job, or your place of work. I hope that, by me speaking out that other women will get courage to speak out. I mean, this is not easy. I have a 12 year old daughter. And one of the biggest reasons, you know, that I’ve decided to speak out is because I want her to know that I needed to be able to speak out because I deserved that right to be able to say this was done to me and it was wrong.”
Josh is the president and publisher of FingerLakes1.com. Have a question? Send them to [email protected].