Marra Says Lewiston Pursued Disgraced Town Cops Aggressively
By Craig Tretiak
Lewiston officials are saying they exercised "due diligence" in pursuing the removal of two Lewiston Police Department officers accused of stealing gasoline from town stores, releasing statements to local media on Monday that indicate police agencies were unwilling to pursue charges against the accused town cops.
Following reporting by this newspaper about the gas thefts, Town Councilman Michael Marra released a statement defending the town board's closed-door handling of the case against the two police officers, one of whom was a 15-year veteran of the force.
Marra says that town officials found police agencies and local prosecutors unwilling to pursue the matter.
"[Police Chief Christopher Salada] provided Town Attorney Mark Davis and members of the town board with evidence of improprieties by two Lewiston police officers," Marra wrote.
"The FBI had chosen to drop the investigation [into the gas thefts], the town, in doing our due diligence on behalf of the people we represent, continued to pursue the matter. In fact, we referred the evidence to the Office of the Niagara County District Attorney. They responded to the Town Board that that they would not be filing any charges in this matter."
After county prosecutors decided not to get involved, Marra said, the town attempted another avenue: the New York State Police.
"The State Police investigators declined to review the matter since the Niagara County District Attorney had already indicated that no charges would be filed on the matter," Marra wrote.
According to Marra, after the state police declined to prosecute, the town sought the officers' ouster through outside counsel, retaining the services of Erie County attorney Brian Doyle. Doyle is a former Erie Council Sheriff's deputy and a police labor relations specialist.
"One of the officers who was a focus of the initial investigation, a part-time officer, was encouraged to resign and did so," Marra said, and noted that that on Doyle's recommendation, a veteran officer, who the Niagara Falls Reporter has identified as Officer James Ullery, was given a 45-day unpaid suspension. Ullery's annual salary is approximately $60,000.
According to Marra, the fulltime officer's more lenient terms were based on Doyle's conclusion the town would likely lose its case against the veteran police officer.
"Doyle said that if the issue went to arbitration, meaning if there was more severe discipline, which may have been up to and including termination, it would be costly to the town and ultimately the officer would be reinstated with back pay," Marra wrote. Because the investigation never became a criminal matter, members of the town board are bound by state statue and the Teamsters' collective bargaining agreement not to disclose information about this personnel matter.
Marra reacted angrily to assertions that the town board had protected the two disgraced cops.
"To violate state laws governing the disclosure of personnel issues, as well as the collective bargaining agreement, would be irresponsible and likely open up the town to liability and litigation," Marra explained.
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Jan 28, 2014