BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County Sheriff's Office Police Benevolent Association is calling out District Attorney John Flynn over how he handled the prosecution of deputy Kenneth Achtyl.
Achtyl assaulted a fan at a tailgate before a Bills game in 2017. He was found guilty of misconduct, reckless assault and falsifying records Friday.
On Saturday, PBA president Christian Parisi posted a statement on the union's Facebook page criticizing the DA:
"The verdict from Orchard Park yesterday is unfortunately a setback for ALL local law enforcement," said Parisi. "While the PBA must accept the decision of the jury, we as police officers are left with a number of concerns as to the basis of facts in this case. Those concerns have never been addressed by the District Attorney.
"In fact, this District Attorney has attacked the credibility and integrity of our members in a case where the complainant admitted in his own testimony he was NOT compliant with the police. This case is just one recent example where the District Attorney has negatively impacted a PBA member; we will never forget his office arguing for leniency when a defendant was accused of assaulting a PBA member on Grand Island. We will continue to honor our oath to serve and protect Erie County, knowing, this District Attorney has made an already difficult job more dangerous."
7 Eyewitness News reached out to Parisi for a follow-up statement. We asked whether an apology was coming to Belsito, the victim of Achtyl's crimes. We also asked whether the PBA's statement could be considered to be justifying Achtyl's actions based on it citing Belsito's admitted non-compliance, and whether the PBA feels Achtyl should be able to keep his job once his sentence is served.
Parisi sent us this follow-up statement on Saturday night:
The PBA feels the District Attorney's Office failed to pursue the original charges against Mr. Belsito with any reasonable level of prosecution, for unknown reasons. In fact, Deputy Achtyl's defense proved those original charges with the trial evidence, including the entirety of the body cam footage and testimony of the witnesses.
As far as victim blaming, the PBA and its members do not engage in such inanity. Our members are in the business of saving lives and protecting victims, to assume otherwise is absurd. As professionals we must accept the jury's verdict, whether we agree or not.
There will be no unnecessary apologies coming from the PBA, perhaps Mr. Belsito would first like to apologize for interfering with the lawful arrest of his friend and then fighting with the police.
Deputy Achtyl will be provided all of the protections under the collective bargaining agreement and it is premature to determine what his status will be.
In a news conference Friday, DA Flynn stated although he was pleased justice was served he wasn't going to gloat about it because Achtyl is a "teammate."
"I'm pleased that justice was done here, but I don't like prosecuting police officers, we're on the same team here," said Flynn. "And I don't like the fact that I prosecute a teammate, that doesn't make me happy."
"I need to maintain good order and discipline as the chief law enforcement officer of Erie County," Flynn continued. "In order to maintain good order and discipline I need to prosecute anyone who commits a crime, anyone, and if its a police officer unfortunately I have to prosecute a teammate."
On Saturday, Flynn directly responded to the PBA's statement with a statement of his own:
"The only person I called into question on their integrity was Deputy Achtyl and a jury found him guilty of falsifying a business record. I have the utmost respect for the deputies of the Sheriff's Office. As far as the Grand Island case, my office never argued for leniency. The defendant in that case pled to attempted murder and the deputy involved consented to the plea."
Just after the verdict was handed down Friday, Sheriff Tim Howard also criticized DA Flynn.
"I intend to call upon District Attorney John Flynn to explain the handling of this case by his own personnel since the beginning," said Howard.
Howard took issue with the fact that someone from the district attorney's office released body camera footage after the criminal charges were dismissed.
Flynn responded to that Friday saying he released body camera footage to the attorney's in the criminal context which he is required to do.
Achtyl is set be sentenced in January and faces a maximum of two years in prison, he remains on unpaid suspension.