BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The Erie County Sheriff was grilled over misconduct involving sheriff's deputies.
Sheriff Timothy Howard took questions for nearly two hours Thursday while appearing before the legislature's public safety committee meeting.
The county's top law enforcement leader was questioned at length about alleged cases of deputies engaging in inappropriate behavior.
“I never said that I was not willing to discuss any of the six points in legislator Johnson’s letter,” stated Sheriff Howard.
The Erie County Legislature’s Democratic Majority says Sheriff Howard hasn’t appeared before the legislature’s public safety committee in two years.
Sheriff Howard appeared virtually and asked about professional standards and the handling of several misconduct cases involving sheriff deputies.
The alleged incidents were outlined in a letter from committee public safety committee chairman Howard Johnson:
- A corrections officer threatening protesters in a street with a baseball bat in 2020
- A holding center deputy being arrested for drug charges (and DWI)
- Male corrections officers or holding center deputies engaged in improper sexual or romantic relationships with female prisoners or former prisoners
- Incidents/accidents involving deputies and 24-hour take home vehicles and a road deputy who was arrested for DWI after wrecking his unmarked sheriff vehicle in October 2020
- A civil process deputy who improperly ran the license plates of, and accosted (while on duty) a then-Buffalo Bison baseball player and another person in order to find out why the civilian was socializing with the deputy’s girlfriend (who had a criminal record, for which the deputy was forbidden from associating)
- Data suggesting that 70% of the ECSO staff that are investigated for alleged wrongdoing are exonerated or face minor charges/discipline
The meeting, contentious at times, looked at alleged sexual relationships with current or former inmates and jail guards at the Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo.
“None of these incidents that were brought to light by you — involved any staff members having sex with any individuals while they were inmates,” Sheriff Howard declared.
“He said when we opened up this committee — that sexual relations between an officer at Holding Center and inmates — had not happen — I just want to say we don't know that to be true,” remarked April Baskin, legislature chairwoman.
Baskin questioned Sheriff Howard at length about reports of officers having sex with inmates.
“It is all unclear — it is all meshing together,” Baskin remarked.
“We have had more than one investigation involving staff members who have had relationships with inmates after they were released from custody,” Howard responded.
“You've never — had Mr. Sheriff — a allegation made by a detainee — that while they were incarcerated or held in the holding center or jail facility — that sexual advances were made by a law enforcement officers/correction officer in the jail — that’s never happened?”, questioned Baskin.
“No, I didn’t say that — I’m trying to get you to clarify your question,” replied Sheriff Howard.
Baskin also questioned Howard about the deputy involved in the DWI cash in a 24-hour take home vehicle arrested for wrecking the unmarked sheriff’s vehicle in October of 2020.
“Is he currently still employed by the office of the sheriff?", Baskin asked.
“He is still employed by the Office of the Sheriff. He still, I think, has his DWI charges pending in court. He is on a desk position — currently he is not operating any sheriff’s office vehicles,” responded Howard.
But Sheriff Howard said the deputy was never suspended.
“Ultimate penalty that he receives with that will be in conjunction with the findings of the court,” explained Howard.
Baskin also asked for an update regarding incident involving a sheriff deputy, driving his personal vehicle in Buffalo last August, allegedly confronting Black Lives Matter protesters with a bat and making racial slurs.
Sheriff Howard said the case was reviewed by the Professional Standards division and a grievance was filed with the union.
“Grievance is pending and I won’t make further comment,” Howard answers.
Baskin and the Sheriff argued over politics regarding the death of George Floyd.
“You’ll make political statements — that’s okay — I make political statements — it’s not okay,” Sheriff Howard remarked.
Baskin said it was not her “intent” to make it a political issue.
Sheriff Howard, who will retire this year, said not every crime would lead to a job termination.
Lawmaker Johnson ended the nearly two hours of questioning of Sheriff Howard saying transparency, truth, and factual information is vital to public safety and those in power must be held accountable.