Niagara Gazette

January 23, 2014

Lewiston officials decline release of details in officers' conduct case.

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF LEWISTON — Town officials still aren’t discussing the conduct of a pair of police officers who were the subject of an internal investigation last year.

Under a state statute dating back to the 1970s, they are under no legal obligation to do so. 

Civil Rights Law section 50-a requires “all personnel records, used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion” for first responders to be “considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, firefighter/paramedic, correction officer or peace officer within the division of parole except as may be mandated by lawful court order.”

In recent weeks, Town Attorney Mark Davis and members of the town board have repeatedly cited the statue while declining comment on the specific nature of last year’s investigation, which they have acknowledged involved the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office and the New York State Police. 

“It’s a state statute that I’m not allowed to comment on this matter,” Councilman Michael Marra said last week. 

Town officials confirmed in October that two members of the town’s police force were investigated for unspecified “allegations.” They have declined comment on the specific nature of the “allegations,” although they are believed to have been tied to the officers’ access to the town’s fuel supply station on Swann Road. 

“I don’t think we ever ran from that,” Councilman Ernest Palmer said last week. “But it never went through the criminal justice system. So all we can really say is there were some allegations.”

The investigation followed the installation of surveillance equipment near the town fuel pumps last year. The source of the equipment, which has since been removed, is also not being discussed publicly by town officials.

In a 2011 audit, the New York State Comptroller’s Office questioned the internal controls over the town’s fuel supply. At the time, state auditors indicated that they found “no evidence of criminal activity” during their review of the town’s operations and finances.  

Auditors noted that the town failed to fully implement security features that would have tightened controls over the fuel supply and did not “consistently enforce existing controls.” Auditors argued that the “deficient controls” resulted in “questionable fuel use that may not have been for town purposes,” identifying roughly 180 questionable fueling transactions.

It’s widely believed the equipment was installed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations following the release of the audit. However, FBI spokeswoman, Maureen Dempsey, said the bureau is unable to comment on the matter.

Newly elected Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey, who took office Jan. 1 after serving 18 months on the Lewiston Village Board, said last week that he has not been filled in on the details of the investigation, which took place on former Supervisor Steve Reiter’s watch.

Brochey said he has no knowledge of the investigation aside from the materials previously printed in the Gazette and is unaware of cameras being installed in the Town of Lewiston.

“I have no idea who was involved or what the accusations were,” Brochey said. “When I was on the village board, there were rumors going around about cameras being put up, but that’s all I know. Some thought they were talking about Border Patrol, down by Lewiston Landing. I don’t know anything about it, though.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.