BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Town of Evans officials are stonewalling the public when it comes to disclosing settlements paid by taxpayers after allegations of police brutality.
An investigation by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team last month found years of alleged misconduct by the Evans Police Department, as detailed in multiple state and federal lawsuits. In at least four cases, those lawsuits resulted in confidential settlements with taxpayers who said they were victims of police misconduct, including:
- A 2005 settlement with an Evans man who filed a federal lawsuit alleging that his young daughter’s civil rights were violated during an arrest.
- A 2015 settlement with an Evans man who filed a federal suit alleging harassment by a town officer whose family member was involved in a bankruptcy dispute with the man.
- A 2018 settlement with an Evans woman who filed a federal suit against six officers after she said they “humiliated” her by pushing her to the ground from behind and handcuffing her when she was distraught after her dog died.
- A 2018 settlement with an Evans man who came to the police station to inquire about a domestic dispute but who ended up getting tackled from behind by two officers, one who used a stun gun on him.
Since the original story aired, officials in town government responded to the I-Team’s Freedom of Information Law request for documents showing the settlement amounts in the above four cases.
But town officials only provided partial payout information, and even those figures applied to only two of the cases. The town gave no information on a controversial 2005 incident that led to a settlement, and a 2018 arrest that was caught on Evans Town Hall cameras and also led to a settlement.
Town Supervisor Mary Hosler did not respond to the I-Team’s multiple requests for interviews to clear up the discrepancies.
“They don't care what your freedom of information request is,” said Bob Catalano, a longtime Evans taxpayer. “They're not going to comply with it. Everything in the Town of Evans is a secret, and we have a culture of corruption in the Town of Evans.”
On August 7, the I-Team requested “any and all records listing or describing monetary settlements or judgments paid by the Town of Evans since 2000 relating to the Evans Police Department.” The request named the four specific cases described above and listed the years that they were filed and settled.
On September 11, Evans Deputy Town Clerk Lynn Wolf responded to the request by providing two pages of information. One was a 2018 invoice from the Tokio Marine insurance company informing the town that “the above-referenced policy has a $25,000 deductible applicable to the coverage under this claim. The deductible applies to loss payments only.”
Under the “loss description” category, the invoice reads: “CLAIMANT IS ALLEGING CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. INSURED’S POLICE OFFICER PUSHED HER TO GROUND & HANDCUFED [sic] THE CLAIMANT.”
The second one-page document provided by the town was an Evans Town Board resolution from April 29, 2015, in which all three town board members voted after an executive session to authorize the town attorney “to offer the sum of up to $25,000, the deductible under the Town’s insurance policy, towards the settlement of the suit filed by plaintiffs’ [sic] Meadows and Pinto.”
That suit, filed in 2015 in federal court in Buffalo, contained allegations of harassment by a town police officer whose family member was involved in a bankruptcy dispute with the plaintiff.
Taxpayers like Catalano and others interviewed by the I-Team say the town should disclose not only the insurance deductible, but the full settlement amounts -- for all of the cases.
“A $25,000 deductible in one case, then $25,000 on the next case...How many more cases were there that they didn't tell you about?” Catalano asked.
Town officials did not release any information on a 2005 settlement with an Evans man who filed a federal lawsuit alleging his young daughter’s civil rights were violated during an arrest. They also did not release information on a 2018 settlement with an Evans man who came to the police station to inquire about a domestic dispute but who ended up getting tackled from behind by two officers, one who used a stun gun on him.
“We have to know how much we're on the hook for every time a policeman beats somebody up, or arrests them under false pretenses,” Catalano said. “Is it too much to ask that the police department is just honest? And does the job it’s supposed to do? I don't think so.”