Deputy called fan he roughed up ‘Mr. Bloody Face’

Video cap­tures of­fi­cers chuck­ling about ar­rest

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - By Matthew Spina NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

Af­ter hit­ting the Bills fan in the face with a ba­ton, forc­ing him to the ground and click­ing on the hand­cuffs – for curs­ing at him over his shoul­der – Sher­iff’s Deputy Kenneth P. Achtyl had a name for his new de­fen­dant: “Mr. Bloody Face.”

That’s the term Achtyl came up with as he and his partner pro­cessed the ar­rest of Ni­cholas H. Bel­sito.

One year ago, Bel­sito was a 25-yearold Univer­sity at Buf­falo stu­dent at­tend­ing a tail­gate party at New Era Field. His ar­rest on Dec. 3, 2017, left him with a bro­ken nose and blood smeared across the right side of his face.

Soon af­ter the ar­rest, Deputies Achtyl and James W. Flow­ers chuck­led about it. Then they got Bel­sito ex­am­ined and cleaned up, be­cause the Erie County Hold­ing Cen­ter will not take de­fen­dants in clear need of med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

At a clinic in­side the sta­dium, Bel­sito’s con­di­tion drew stares.

“That’s not face paint,” Flow­ers quipped as he led Bel­sito to a cot.

These scenes are cap­tured on a video from Flow­ers’ body cam­era, part of Sher­iff Ti­mothy B. Howard’s trial run in body cam­eras for his patrol unit. Be­cause of the record­ing: • Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties are now look­ing into whether the deputies ex­ceeded their pow­ers and should face charges, a source with di­rect knowl­edge of their probe told The News.

•An as­sis­tant dis­trict at­tor­ney con­cluded the video did not prove the charges of dis­or­derly con­duct, ob­struct­ing gov­ern­men­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion and crim­i­nal mis­chief that deputies lodged. The DA’s Of­fice dropped the case against Bel­sito. Dis­trict At­tor­ney John J. Flynn said his staff will de­ter­mine whether the deputies can

Deputy

be charged with a mis­de­meanor for stat­ing in court doc­u­ments that Bel­sito fought with them when the video does not show that.

•Erie County law­mak­ers in­tend to ask Howard or his top of­fi­cials on Thurs­day what came of the trial run with body cam­eras. When Howard an­nounced, in the month be­fore Elec­tion Day 2017, that select deputies would wear the cam­eras, he said he was con­cerned about the cost of stor­ing all the data that would be cre­ated if ev­ery patrol deputy had one. He has said lit­tle pub­licly about cam­eras since then, and a top aide said the cost is still be­ing as­sessed.

The Howard team said it will not com­ment pub­licly on the ar­rest be­cause it will be the fo­cus of a law­suit against the county. His top of­fi­cials also will not say if there has been any change in Achtyl’s sta­tus as a re­sult of the Bel­sito ar­rest. Chief of Ad­min­is­tra­tion John W. Greenan said Achtyl will not be work­ing at this Sun­day’s Bills game.

The video was recorded two months into the body cam­era trial. It shows what hap­pened when Bel­sito asked Achtyl where he was tak­ing a friend who had just been ar­rested dur­ing the tail­gate party.

The friend was sit­ting hand­cuffed in the back of a patrol ve­hi­cle, in cus­tody for throw­ing a beer can that re­port­edly hit Achtyl’s el­bow. Bel­sito fig­ured he would go re­trieve the friend once he was re­leased.

“I’m sorry,” Bel­sito says as Achtyl low­ers his win­dow, “I’m just won­der­ing where you guys are go­ing, so I’m go­ing to meet my friend there ...”

“Who’s your friend?” Achtyl says. “The kid in the back.’’ “OK, well, you want to go to jail with him?” Achtyl asks, his voice ris­ing. “No, I ...” “Then beat it.” In their brief ex­change, Achtyl told Bel­sito three more times to “beat it.” But he also let Bel­sito know the county jail was at 10 Delaware Ave.

A vis­i­bly frus­trated Bel­sito fi­nally walked off, then turned to curse. His lawyer said he used words to the ef­fect of: “Do your (ex­ple­tive) job. This is bull---.”

Achtyl burst from his seat to write Bel­sito a ticket for dis­or­derly con­duct, even though New York’s high­est court has held that swear­ing at a po­lice of­fi­cer is not il­le­gal.

Deputies Achtyl and Flow­ers jus­ti­fied the ad­di­tional charges by say­ing in court doc­u­ments that Bel­sito fought with them. But the Flow­ers video doesn’t show that, nor does a cell­phone video taken by an­other tail­gate rev­eler and ob­tained by Bel­sito’s lawyer, Aaron F. Glazer of Buf­falo.

It shows Achtyl hit­ting Bel­sito with the ba­ton and Bel­sito do­ing lit­tle to de­fend him­self.

In­side the med­i­cal clinic, Bel­sito and Achtyl quar­reled when a medic asked the pa­tient what hap­pened to him.

“I asked where my friend was go­ing, and then this cop,” Bel­sito said look­ing at Achtyl, “hit me in the face with a ba­ton, and then threw me on the ground.” Achtyl in­ter­jected. “He was be­ing ar­rested for dis­or­derly con­duct, and he was fight­ing with the po­lice, and he re­fused to be hand­cuffed.”

“Dis­or­derly con­duct! I was fight­ing with the po­lice! I got grabbed from the back,” Bel­sito said, “and then I tensed up, and then he threw me on the ground.” “Shut up,” Achtyl says. “Shut up?” “Just shut up.” They con­tin­ued to quar­rel, and Flow­ers of­fered his ex­pla­na­tion of the in­jury: “He got hit in the nose dur­ing the course of his re­sist­ing ar­rest.”

County Leg­is­la­tor Pa­trick Burke, D-Buf­falo, is among those who want to know what hap­pened with the trial run in body cam­eras. “They should have body cam­eras; that’s my opin­ion. It’s pretty straight­for­ward,” he said. “This was a clear over­reach by the sher­iff’s deputies, and the tax­pay­ers are go­ing to pay for that, I’m sure. The ev­i­dence in that video record­ing is very com­pelling.”

“A lot of peo­ple, my­self in­cluded, feel the Sher­iff’s Of­fice suf­fers from a lack of over­sight,” he said. He men­tioned Howard’s de­ci­sion, soon af­ter he was re-elected in 2013, to take a part-time job with M&T Bank and the fact that when de­posed about a high-pro­file jail death, he an­swered 68 ques­tions with “I don’t know.”

Leg­is­la­tor April N.M. Baskin, D-Buf­falo, in­vited Howard to meet with her Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee at 11 a.m. Thurs­day on the fourth floor of Old County Hall. She wants to ask the sher­iff about body cam­eras, what was learned dur­ing the trial and why he did not seek the money to put them into wide­spread use in 2019.

In her first term, Baskin has asked Howard to speak to her com­mit­tee about other press­ing mat­ters: the state Com­mis­sion of Cor­rec­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion that the death of Hold­ing Cen­ter inmate In­dia Cum­mings should be ruled a homi­cide due to med­i­cal ne­glect, for ex­am­ple, and the com­mis­sion’s state­ment that the county lock­ups Howard over­sees are among New York’s worst-run jails.

Howard spoke to the com­mit­tee about both top­ics, though an as­sis­tant county at­tor­ney pre­vented him from say­ing any­thing that might af­fect law­suits un­der­way against the county. Baskin said she ex­pects a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion this time, but she fig­ures Howard can talk about his of­fice’s poli­cies, in­clud­ing the poli­cies at play in the ar­rest of Bel­sito.

“What I saw,” she said of the video, “was some­one who was ask­ing ques­tions, and the deputy did not ap­prove of the way those ques­tions were be­ing asked.” The deputy’s re­sponse, she said, seemed ex­treme.

Body cam im­age shows Erie County Deputy Kenneth P. Achtyl ar­rest­ing Ni­cholas H. Bel­sito.

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