The days of Sheriff Howard doing and saying whatever the hell he wants without repercussion are over.
Ever since Sheriff Howard, a republican, showed up in uniform to speak at a Trump rally that had white supremacist literature circulating between waiving confederate flags, we assumed his career was over. Then Erie County overwhelmingly re-elected him last year (face palm).
24 people have died in Howard’s jails since he took over the office. TWENTY-FOUR. That is not good policing. Plain and simple. Still, Howard was the teflon man to whom nothing would stick.
Then April Baskin was elected to the Erie County Legislature. Determined to hold the sheriff and his department’s feet to the fire, she has brought him in to speak to the Public Safety Committee on multiple occasions.
By now, you’ve seen the Buffalo News’ coverage of the Deputy Kenneth Achtyl vs Nicholas Belsito. Achtyl arrested Belsito’s friend. Belsito approached the vehicle to ask where his friend was being taken so they could bail him out. Achtyl got power hungry and annoyed and told Belsito to “beat it;” (Cool 1950s term man.) Belsito (gasp) CURSED at him, and for that, Achtyl cracked him in the head.
Achtyl made up charges of fighting police and resisting arrest and another crap, and the Buffalo News broke the story than when the DA saw the body cam footage Achtyl’s partner was wearing, all charges were dropped. Caught in a lie, Howard’s office released a statement that the experiment that expired in March of wearing body cams was “bad for the department.”
Uhhhh ya think?
“What I saw on that video was very disturbing,” Baskin said. “I’m not satisfied with today’s discussion. As the litigation unfolds, we’ll move forward with more questioning and exploring how the Legislature can participate in figuring out how we can financially support body cameras being implemented to protect the public’s safety.”
She questioned whether Howard truly wants body cameras.
“It boils down to his priorities,” she said. “He can be for something, but if it’s not a priority, how in favor of it are you?”
Baskin, also the Public Safety Committee chairwoman, questioned why Howard would approve of letting an independent production company trail sheriff’s deputies for a reality TV show but have reservations about sheriff’s deputies wearing the cameras and securing their own footage. She suggested Howard didn’t have any problem with the TV show because footage could be edited to make deputies look like “heroes,” but body cameras would provide unedited footage that may not show deputies in a positive manner.
It’s just so damn refreshing that every time Howard lies, or gives some “I don’t know” when asked about another person dying in his custody, Baskin says “HOLD ON.”
People who swear at police don’t deserve to be roughed up, and taken to jail. People who do commit actual crimes do deserve to go to jail, but they shouldn’t die there. They are still people, in a bad time in their lives. Their lives matter. Even if we can’t knock Howard out of power, we finally have a legislator and a legislature willing to make him be more transparent, and that could, and should, finally force him to do a better job.
Go get ’em, April.