|Robin Zastrow, Niagara County
Sheriff Dispatcher and Constable of
the Town of Wheatfield, may have
abused his authority.
|Under color of law? Tim Demler
has been the victim of some pretty
perpetrated, it appears, by his
Do you know what happens when you call 911 in an emergency? Do you ever stop to think who is sitting on the other end of that line?
Many of us implicitly believe that the operators take their awesome responsibility seriously. The idea that politics or personalities somehow bias or taint the way the system works is a foreign concept to many of us.
That is why the actions of the Niagara County Sheriff Dispatcher Robin Zastrow are shocking to read and leave many wondering just how safe our trusted institutions are.
Are you familiar with the saying "It's not paranoia if they are really out to get you?"
For years now, former Wheatfield Supervisor Tim Demler has had a sneaking suspicion that his political enemies, not satisfied with merely halting his political career, have been taking every opportunity they can to harass him.
Now, the Reporter has received shocking evidence proving Demler's fears may be justified.
On December 6 of last year, Demler was pulled over for a traffic stop by a Lewiston police officer.
As is protocol, the officer radioed Niagara County dispatch, alerting them of his stop and, according to police records, stated simply, "Vehicle stop, Saunders Settlement / Mayflower," and read off the license plate number.
Back at the communications center, however, County Dispatcher Wendi Walker received his transmission, responded with a 10-4 and then checked the license plate number.
Sources allege that Walker, upon learning that the subject of the traffic stop she was just notified of was Tim Demler, notified Zastrow, who was assigned to work Fire Dispatch that shift.
Upon learning from Walker that the police had stopped Demler, Zastrow broke away from his assignment. He had a good motive to do so.
Zastrow, in addition to his duties as a dispatcher for the County Sheriff, is the Wheatfield town constable, appointed by Robert Cliffe, the supervisor of Wheatfield, the man who unseated Demler as supervisor in a hard fought, and at times, dirty race.
Demler, a long time and popular supervisor, is a potential future challenger to Cliffe, which, if he were to be successful, would mean the end of Zastrow's role as constable.
The Reporter has obtained a transcript of the message log from December 6 showing a series of direct messages between Zastrow and the police officer that should raise more than just the eyebrows of every reader.
Zastrow sent a series of direct message to the officer that read:
Zastrow: "TIM DEMLER?? WRITE HIM!! SERIOUS!!"
Officer: "lol why?"
Zastrow: "I CAN EXPLAIN LATER LOL DO WHAT YOU FEEL OBVIOUSLY
Officer: "lol I gave him one"
Zastrow: "THANX! SND UR CELL # AND I'LL CALL YOU WHEN I GET A MIN"
Demler said nothing seemed suspicious at the time of the traffic stop, but was subsequently tipped off by a source who was outraged by this abuse of power, and Demler filed a Freedom of Information request of the dispatch records surrounding the event.
"At first I didn't suspect anything. I felt I was legitimately pulled over for speeding. In fact the case is over and I already paid my fine. After I was tipped off and read what really went on, I became very concerned about this type of politics going on all the time," said Demler.
In fact, Demler now wonders if his arrest in 2011, widely publicized by the local media, was the result of behind-the-scenes misfeasance at the county dispatch.
"It was May 4, 2011 and I was pulled over in Wheatfield shortly after leaving a parking lot and arrested for being a scofflaw on a seatbelt violation! They actually took me into custody for failure to pay a seatbelt ticket – which I did pay- but the system allegedly said there was a bench warrant for failure to pay the ticket," said Demler.
"Instead of issuing me an appearance ticket, they took me into custody, brought me to Niagara County Jail, booked me, and gave me $250 bail," said Demler.
The question that Zastrow's actions raise is, what went on behind the scenes that might have prompted such a disproportionate response for a seatbelt violation?
"I'm shocked," said Demler. "Even I did not know politics of that nature went on in the dispatch office to other police agencies. Politics is clearly behind this and now I am have to question the actions of the 2011 arrest and what went on there. I am definitely going to file a FOIL request for the transcripts of that call," continued Demler.
The Reporter contacted the Sheriff's office regarding Zastrow's actions and Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti assured us that this type of abuse won't be tolerated.
"There were inappropriate messages and we handled it with the dispatcher," Filicetti said.
"We don't condone, nor do we allow that kind of activity to go on here. It is a violation of policy. We take it seriously. We have guidelines and a strict policy in place for using computers."
Filicetti indicated that Zastrow was subject to some form of discipline, but was unable to expand upon the specific details. "It was a personnel matter. I can't release what we did, but it was handled by our department internally once it was brought to our attention," said Filicetti.
Filicetti stated emphatically that Zastrow's actions were not "official business."
"We don't condone it and we certainly don't allow it. The computer is not for personal communications and I don't think there will be a reoccurring problem," said Filicetti.
Demler said that while all might be fair in love and politics, he is concerned that having it cross over into the realm of public safety could put the public in danger if people start viewing every action with suspicion.
"This particular dispatcher, Robin Zastrow, is a close associate of current Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe and is even being considered for a new position as the Wheatfield Police Chief. This behavior certainly has the potential to raise questions of how much politics plays in the 911 system that we rely on in life and death situations," said Demler.