LEWISTON — Police body camera footage shows the same two Lewiston Police officers who inspected a pickup truck driven by the son of Acting Sheriff Michael Filicetti following an April property damage incident on Bridgeman Road encountered the sheriff’s son on Aug. 8 on Center Street while he was — as one of the officers can be heard saying on one of the videos — “like out cold behind the wheel.”
The newspaper is not identifying Filicetti’s son by name as no charges were filed in the matter.
Body camera video from the Aug. 8 encounter with police shows Lewiston Officers Jon Emmons and Maria Battista approaching a black pickup with the sheriff’s 23-year-old son behind the wheel as it is parked on the side of road on the 400 block of Center Street.
The video from Emmons’ body camera shows him walking up to the pickup on the driver’s side and saying the name of the sheriff’s son. No response can be heard and Emmons moves to the passenger side of the pickup where he opens the door and leans in to turn the ignition key to off.
The videos show the officers asking the sheriff’s son a series of questions, including whether he is “good.”
“We were just checking on you because you were like out cold behind the wheel, you know?” Emmons can be heard saying on the audio from his body camera video.
“Sorry. Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” the sheriff’s son responds.
“No,” Emmons replies. “That’s good. Just want to make sure you’re good to go.”
The sheriff’s son makes several comments referencing the police radio, at first sounding as if he was talking on it. He later acknowledges to the officers that he was actually “listening” to the police radio.
When asked by Battista where is he heading, the sheriff’s son replies, “home.”
Later, in the audio from his body camera, Emmons asks the acting sheriff’s son if he is “going to be able to make it home OK?”
“Oh yeah. I’m going to get a little bit of gas then I’m going to go home,” Filicetti’s son says.
In response, Emmons replies: “I’ll tell you what, just to make sure, I’ll follow you most of the way.”
This newspaper extended an offer for interviews with Emmons and Battista through Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte who said he would answer questions on their behalf.
Previte said he was aware of the encounter but was unaware of the specifics of any verbal exchanges between Emmons and Filicetti’s son. He acknowledged that Emmons reached in to the vehicle from the passenger side to turn off the ignition and that Emmons also followed the sheriff’s son’s vehicle to a service station where he got gas and the officer spoke with the sheriff’s son again. Previte confirmed that Emmons did follow the sheriff’s son home that evening.
Previte said it was not unusual for officers to proceed in such a manner and that he himself has done so while on calls in the past. He said he thought the matter was handled professionally by Emmons and Battista.
“The officers conducted themselves normally as they would with any person,” he said.
Previte said neither officer performed any field sobriety checks on Center Street because they did not detect any odor of alcohol and the sheriff’s son was not exhibiting slurred speech or any signs of intoxication that would have prompted evaluation.
“My officer was very close to him. He entered the vehicle while he was still in it. He had plenty of opportunity to observe the smell of alcohol,” Previte said.
Previte said he trusted the officers’ judgement in the situation and said he has confidence in both of them as they have both been involved in numerous DWI arrests in the past.
“I don’t think (Filicetti’s son) was shown preference to anything,” he said.
The Lewiston Police Department and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office are separate entities and, as acting sheriff, Filicetti has no direct authority over Lewiston officers.
Filicetti said he has not seen the videos in question and could not comment on what they show. He noted that sleeping in a vehicle is not against the law, adding that since his department was not involved in the call he trusted that the officers at the scene and their supervisors handled the situation appropriately.
“I would say that both of those (incidents) involved (Previte’s) agency and I trust Chief Previte. If he’s comfortable with it, that’s really what matters, not what I think,” Filicetti said.
REQUESTS FOR VIDEOS
The newspaper filed a Freedom of Information request with the town in an effort to obtain a copy of the video. On Tuesday, Town Clerk Donna Garfinkel responded to the request in writing, indicating that “no responsive records” were located.
Previte noted that, due to system storage capacity, body camera footage is erased after 30 days unless marked as evidence and he said the videos in question were likely no longer available for that reason.
Bill Nye, the campaign chairman for Brian Grear, a part-time Lewiston police officer and Filicetti’s opponent in this year’s sheriff’s race, acquired copies of the body camera videos earlier this year through a formal Freedom of Information request. The newspaper viewed copies of the videos obtained by Nye.
Nye said he made copies of the videos from the Aug. 8 encounter with police available to the newspaper because he believes they offer insight into how the officers dealt with the acting sheriff’s son a second time. Nye said he believes the public has a right to the information.
“I think it’s important because the undersheriff is going to be the highest law enforcement officer in our county,” Nye said. “If you can’t hold a standard to your own, how are you going to be able to hold a standard to anybody else?”
“We have to stop this activity,” he added.
Filicetti described the raising of questions about the encounter involving his son as “pure politics” while again noting that the Center Street call involved two officers from Lewiston Police Department and neither he nor any sheriff’s deputies were present on Center Street the night the Lewiston officers interacted with his son.
“It’s very discouraging that I’m being asked questions about a video that didn’t involve my department and didn’t involve me,” he said. “The only reason you are asking about it is because it is six days before the election and it is to garner some political favor for my opponent.”
“I don’t know why this has anything to do with me and holding standards. I wasn’t there. My department wasn’t there. What’s my involvement in it?” he added.
Nye also took issue, earlier this year, with an April 28 Lewiston Police investigation of a still-unsolved hit-and-run accident that damaged a parked vehicle on Bridgeman Road. Emmons and Battista were the responding officers on that call, too.
A pair of witnesses from the scene of that incident told Emmons that they believed a black truck with LED lights on the back of it may have been involved.
The witness accounts, which were not reflected in writing on the police report filed after the incident, were recorded by Emmons’ body camera.
The footage, obtained earlier this year by this newspaper through a Freedom of Information Law request, shows the female owner of the damaged vehicle explaining how her car was parked on the side of the road in front of a house when it was struck by a passing vehicle.
After being shown damage to the parked car, which included a broken sideview mirror and multiple scratches and dents along the passenger side, Emmons asked whether the owner knew what kind of vehicle was involved.
In response, the woman said: “It was like a truck with LED lights.”
A woman at the scene of the hit-and-run told Emmons that “right after” the incident, a friend who was at the same Bridgeman Road home “went after” the vehicle and got the license plate number.
In the video, the male witness who followed the vehicle tells Emmons it was a “black truck” with “red LED lights on it.”
Later in the video, the owner of the damaged car says that she also had noticed a loud, black truck that kept “coming back and forth past” the Bridgeman Road house and was “going really fast.”
“He did it like three times,” she said.
The car owner and other witnesses at the scene admit later in the video that they did not actually see her car being struck by a black truck or any other vehicle.
Police officials, including Previte, have confirmed that the license plate number given to investigators matched the license plate of the vehicle driven by Filicetti’s son.
Lewiston police later determined, based on an examination of Filicetti’s son’s vehicle at a local fire hall, that there was no damage on his truck that was consistent with the damage caused to the car parked on Bridgeman Road.
“The vehicle did not have any damage that corresponded with any damage with the vehicle on Bridgeman Road. End of story,” Previte said. “Somebody obviously hit that vehicle. We don’t believe it was that vehicle that caused the damage that night.”
Filicetti’s son was not charged in connection with the incident and, as of Tuesday, Previte said the hit-and-run remains the subject of an open investigation.
“We have not located the vehicle that did the striking,” he said.
In response to questions about the Bridgeman Road matter, Filicetti noted that the investigation concluded that his son’s truck was not involved.
“The undeniable fact is there’s no damage consistent with the accident,” Filicetti said.
Lewiston town attorney Thomas Seaman recused himself from processing Nye’s FOIL request for the Bridgeman Road incident footage earlier this year, suggesting the matter was “political” in nature. The town board later agreed to hire an outside attorney to process the request.
Nye submitted his FOIL request to the town on May 28. The town confirmed receipt of his request days later. In a follow-up letter, the town indicated that it would provide Nye with an answer to his request by June 25. Nye later filed a formal appeal and on July 31 the town fulfilled his request.
“That tape should have been part of this investigation all along,” Nye said.
Days before the June primary election, Filicetti invited reporters from the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, the Buffalo News and WIVB-TV to view a separate video captured by a sheriff’s deputy on April 29 at the Sanborn fire hall, where the Lewiston officers met with Filicetti’s son to examine his vehicle — a black pickup. Filicetti said he had a deputy document the examination because, earlier in the evening, Grear had stopped Filicetti’s son while he was putting lawn signs on property in the area.
The deputy’s video shows Emmons and Battista checking the exterior of the truck. Following the review, the officers determined that there were no visible scratches or damage consistent with the incident on Bridgeman Road. The accident report noted that “after investigation, patrol located striking vehicle as provided by the complainant and was discovered that there was not damage consistent to a side swipe accident.”
On the sheriff’s deputy’s video, Filicetti is shown exiting the scene with his son for several minutes before returning to ask the officers what they are going to do.
In response, Emmons tells him: “For vehicle one it would just be left the scene of an accident.”
Filicetti then asks Emmons whether his chief is aware of the plan, suggesting he would call Previte the following day to find out for sure.
On the video, Filicetti later makes a reference to the investigating officers’ “compadre,” an apparent reference to Grear, who works part time as an officer in the Lewiston department.
“I will be calling (Previte) tomorrow because I will tell you what, your compadre over there was screwing with (Filicetti’s son) earlier when he was putting my signs up and now he’s saying put his information out over the air to jerk me around. This (expletive’s) got to stop. Now it’s getting personal. If he was here, I would tell him the same thing.”
Filicetti has suggested that Nye’s interest in the matter was politically motivated, describing it as a “total smear campaign.”
Nye has denied that, saying he requested more information about the incident because he believed it might shed additional light on the investigation and the sheriff’s involvement. He said he’s interested in making sure all investigations are handled properly, included those involving family members of law enforcement officers.
Nye said he is also concerned about the family of the victim of the hit-and-run incident because he does not believe their interests were properly served.
“I think he’s trying to sweep it under the rug and make it sound like it’s Brian Grear and our campaign coming after him. That is not true at all,” Nye said of Filicetti.
Marcus Latham, the grandfather of the woman whose car was damaged, says he was not satisfied with the investigation, but he declined to discuss the matter in more detail.
“I was very disappointed with the investigation, or lack thereof,” he said.
Regarding the Bridgeman Road incident, Previte stressed that the investigating officers determined the condition of the truck did not match the damage done to the parked car.
“It’s very simple. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” he said, referring to the lack of consistency of damage between the two vehicles. “If you hit something, it’s going to leave a mark depending on the damage.”
Asked why Filicetti’s son wasn’t asked to return to the accident scene to pair up his truck with the damaged vehicle, instead of being directed to a nearby fire hall, Previte said the matter was handled that way to avoid any potential confrontation between the two parties.
“In any instance, to have some sort of confrontation, that would be the silliest thing to do,” he said. “We don’t normally ever do that. I wouldn’t do that as well.”
Overall, Previte said, he felt the matter was handled professionally.
“I’m confident that the officers did a good job, did what they were supposed to do and handled themselves appropriately,” he said.
Filicetti said nothing improper occurred during the course of the Bridgeman Road investigation, which he said resulted in his son being cleared of any wrongdoing.
“If this wasn’t my son, this wouldn’t be a story at all,” Filicetti said. “The fact remains that he didn’t do anything wrong.”