City attorneys have agreed that Buffalo will pay Gregory B. Olma an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit that accused police of falsely arresting him after two election inspectors accused him of making racial and sexual slurs.
The settlement was reached as jury selection was scheduled to begin this week before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
Olma, an Erie County legislator at the time, said the accusations ruined his political career. He also has insisted he never made the slurs to Karen R. Gregory and Adrea M. Newbern on primary election night in September 2000.
He since has been cleared by a grand jury of criminal charges, received a $25,000 settlement from Erie County earlier this year after suing the election inspectors and now will be paid by the city for what he said was a false arrest.
"I'm hoping that those facts will put to bed any possibility that the public might think these allegations were true," said James Ostrowski, Olma's attorney.
"There were no witnesses who corroborated any of the accusations against me. I sued six people. And I settled with six people. And I'm glad it's behind me," said Olma, 47.
Olma, a Democrat who has lost four elections since the accusations were made, said his party has blacklisted him.
The settlement ends a possible two-week trial for the officers who arrested Olma: Lts. Albert Liberatore and Mark Michalek, and Officers Richard Lopez and Martin Forero.
They accused Olma of coercion, aggravated harassment, harassment and resisting arrest. But prosecutors said a grand jury refused to indict Olma because it did not find the election inspectors' testimony credible.
Carmen J. Gentile, an assistant corporation counsel who represented the officers, said they did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
"From the City of Buffalo's standpoint, it was a purely economical and cost-effective way of concluding the matter," Gentile said. "We did place on the record in open court the fact that the city and its police officers do not admit any liability or malfeasance in the incident, that they acted properly and believe the arrest was lawful."
Then why did the city settle rather than defend the officers' conduct in court?
"Our position was that these officers are four of the best officers in the City of Buffalo," Gentile said. "We would rather have them out protecting citizens rather than sitting in court for two weeks."
Although the Common Council still must approve the settlement, and Freedom of Information laws eventually will require the city to disclose how much Olma will be paid, Gentile said the agreement calls for keeping the amount confidential.
Olma and Ostrowski both said they were bound by the agreement not to disclose what Olma will receive.
Erie County also initially balked at disclosing its settlement, which was revealed only after The Buffalo News filed a Freedom of Information request.
The proposed settlement with Buffalo first has to win approval from the city's Claims Committee before the Common Council can vote on it.
Gregory, one of the black election inspectors who made the accusations against Olma, died several weeks ago, and Ostrowski cited Gregory's death as one reason his client agreed to settle. Her testimony would have been read from a pretrial examination.
"What that meant, besides the obvious tragedy for her and her family," Ostrowski said, "was the jury could not observe her and make a judgment as to her credibility."
Olma, who now works as a senior administrative assistant for homeland security in the county's Department of Central Police Services, said he would like to run for political office again.
"If the opportunity presents itself," he said, "I'd love to get back into public service."