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Erie County Sheriff's Office to get body cameras following battle with the legislature

Erie County Sheriff's Office to get body cameras following political battle
Posted at 11:46 PM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-19 09:24:01-04

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County Legislature agreed to give the Erie County Sheriff's Office $600,000 for a body camera program. The agreement was reached at Thursday's contentious Erie County Legislature meeting.

April Baskin, Erie County Legislature Chairwoman, said she requested body camera footage in March of the December 2017 incident at a Buffalo Bills tailgate where Deputy Kenneth Achtyl is seen roughing up and arresting fan Nicholas Belsito. At Thursday's meeting, Baskin passed out emails from March that Sheriff Timothy Howard sent to his staff, which Baskin's office was copied on.

The email from Howard read:
"Whoa....Is she clever enough to now ask for the video that goes with those use of force incidents? I trust we have reviewed them ourself?"

Baskin credits this email as part of the reason why she doesn't trust the sheriff will properly implement the body camera program.

"I believe there is a 99% chance that the sheriff's office will never implement body cameras in Erie County," Baskin said.

Conservative Legislator Joseph Lorigo was not happy the correspondence went public.

"It's wrong... it's a stunt... and I'm tired of it," he said.

Baskin also said the sheriff's office has not made body cameras a priority in the past.

"The sheriff himself refused to put up money himself in his budget," she said. "He said to us you need to find me the funding because body cameras because body cameras are not a priority to me, a helicopter and a SWAT team is."

Scott Zylka, Sheriff Howard's spokesman, said the sheriff is out of town but will discuss the emails himself. He says they're ready to move forward with the new body camera program now that legislators agreed to put the $600,000 in the sheriff's office budget, and not under control of the legislature.

"That is something that we're happy about because that assurance form this honorable body will get this process completed," Zylka said.

Additionally, the county's Division of Information and Support Services assured the sheriff's office they would not have access to the body camera footage.

According to Zylka, the sheriff's office will start reviewing body camera providers as early as Friday. It has until the end of August to pick one. Once a vendor is confirmed the legislature will give the $600,000 to the sheriff's office when the legislature reconvenes in September.

Zylka said if all goes as planned, the department will implement the body cameras in October.