This past week, we saw justice served in at least one incident involving Sheriff Timothy Howard. But too often, we have been left absent the feeling of satisfaction for those community members who have been without even a response for his negligence or wrong-doing. Our families are still suffering daily and cannot continue to.
Deputy Kenneth Achtyl was found guilty of committing three crimes̋ against Nicholas Belsito after body camera footage showed an altercation that occurred after a 2017 Bills’ game. A jury convicted the Sheriff’s deputy of reckless assault, official misconduct, and falsifying business records for misstating the facts of the situation on a departmental report. The evidence is clear: body cameras work. They are necessary for an accurate, unbiased depiction of the story we have been telling in our communities for too long. The Erie County Legislature provided the funding for body cameras in June, and we have yet to see the implementation of them. It is all too clear after his post-verdict interview; the Sheriff has other priorities like attacking the District Attorney for even exposing this footage in the first place.
Under Sheriff Howard, negligence and neglect have become common place. One person dies in his custody every 6 months. One must ask: what else is he trying to cover up? Or is he just that disengaged from the wants and needs of Erie County residents? He refused to provide information on the Connell Burrell case to my Legislature colleagues when requested. Now, we find out through medical records that the mismanagement of his staff is responsible for yet another needless death that has cost a grieving family their loved one and the Erie County taxpayers certain legal fees.
We cannot allow this to be considered the norm. The Sheriff’s term expires in 2021, and I will commit to doing everything in my power as a leader in government to see that he and his office are held accountable. His priorities are obvious when all he talks about is funding helicopters and full-time SWAT teams. No family should have to worry their loved one will die of a common, treatable medical condition while they are in the custody of Erie County. Even on our worst days, we are human, and the Sheriff’s office seems to forget that basic human rights should be afforded to all.
The Erie County Corrections Specialist Advisory Board will seek to change this narrative in the coming weeks at is officially empaneled. Comprised of those who have specific knowledge of our criminal justice system, I feel confident that increased citizen oversight is the first of many necessary steps to curb the Sheriff’s abuse of power. This board will take public comments, do research, and conduct meaningful dialogue to provide well thought out recommendations to the office of the Sheriff. I know our diligent, thoughtful work will make this a successful endeavor.
I also urge you as community members to take your voices to the polls this November! While Sheriff Howard is not on the ballot, certainly those who support him unequivocally will be. With a powerful Democratic majority in the Legislature, we can continue to push for more oversight and stronger limitations on the power of his office. This year, early voting beginning on October 26th will make the process even more accessible. With ten sites in the City of Buffalo and 27 more throughout Erie County, we have no excuse. For more information on early voting, please visit the Board of Elections website at www.elections.erie.gov.
We have all suffered at the hands of elected officials who have forgotten where their priorities should be – many through their grieving hearts but also through our wallets when costly negligence means more settlements, trying to repay a debt we will never be able to settle. I am committed to doing my part to make sure the future of the Sheriff’s Office in Erie County is one of honesty and transparency, not the continuation of the shameful policies we currently see.