Mayor Byron W. Brown's communications chief rear-ended a motorcyclist two months before his appointment, fleeing the scene on the grounds that he felt threatened by the victim, his attorney said Tuesday.
Peter K. Cutler was charged with leaving the scene of the Oct. 15 accident and an obstruction charge, a misdemeanor. Three days later, a plea agreement was reached that allowed Cutler to plead guilty to a violation of disorderly conduct.
The lawyer for the motorcyclist claimed Cutler was given too much leniency. Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said the case moved through the system faster than it should have, but Clark defended the outcome.
"We took a plea on arraignment, which is contrary to our policy," said Clark. "[The assistant district attorney] should have waited. But I'm not saying the plea was inappropriate."
Clark said the staffer who handled the case was a young attorney with limited experience. He denied that Cutler's prominence influenced the outcome, claiming the prosecutor didn't even know who he was.
Cutler spent three years as communications director to Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. He did some volunteer work for Brown during the mayoral campaign last fall, and was named Brown's $79,243-a-year communications director Jan. 1.
The accident occurred at 3:30 a.m. at Tupper Street and Delaware Avenue. A police report indicates Cutler struck a motorcycle driven by Keith A. Borders of the Town of Tonawanda. Cutler's attorney, Roger P. Doyle Jr., said Cutler fled the scene because he was afraid of physical harm.
"The motorcyclist was very agitated, to say the least," said Doyle. "Peter had a legitimate concern for his safety."
Police said Borders followed Cutler's car to the West Side, where Cutler crashed into a bus sign. Cutler fled on foot after his car stalled. Doyle said a police officer then ordered Cutler to stop, and apprehended him. He said Cutler was unsure who was chasing him.
"It was a huge relief when he found out it was the police," Doyle said.
James A. Partacz, Borders' attorney, said his client suffered extensive disk damage and has back pain. He said Borders, a mechanic, has been unable to work since the accident and intends to file a civil suit. Partacz said Borders feels he has been denied his "day in court."
"I've been practicing for 25 years, and I've never seen a plea like this," said Partacz.
Doyle disagreed, claiming such cases are common.
There is no evidence that alcohol was involved in the accident, but Partacz said Cutler was never given a Breathalyzer test.
Brown said Cutler informed him about the accident in December, shortly before Cutler accepted his new post. Brown said he believes the issue was properly resolved. He defended Cutler as a man known for his "fairness and forthrightness."
"That this matter is now being publicized, suggesting that he was given preferential treatment, is unfair to Peter," Brown said in written statement. "That is false and discredits our legal process."