Longtime associates came to the defense of Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson on Tuesday, a day after a lawyer publicly accused him of being involved with illegal drugs.
The associates, including a former city police commissioner, said Gipson was present in a Woltz Avenue drug house because Gipson owned the house and was looking into allegations that a tenant was selling drugs there.
So far, Gipson has declined to comment on a lawyer's accusation that Gipson has a history of drug use.
But Erie County Undersheriff Richard T. Donovan, a former Buffalo police commissioner, called the accusation "just ridiculous." Donovan said he has known and has worked with Gipson since 1971.
According to Donovan, Gipson investigated one of his own tenants several years ago, after allegations were made that the tenant was selling drugs from a rental property owned by Gipson.
"McCarthy turned the drugs over to a lieutenant in charge of our detectives. The drugs were sent to the lab for analysis and came back as positive. Our detectives conducted an investigation. There was surveillance, but we weren't able to make an arrest," Donovan said of the case.
This explanation surfaced a day after an attorney for a Buffalo police officer involved in a disciplinary hearing alleged that Gipson has a history of drug use. The attorney alleged that Gipson was allowed to walk away from a drug house without being charged after city police encountered him at the Woltz residence.
Gipson, according to another high-ranking law enforcement official, had gone to the residence on the first block of Woltz after a neighbor tipped him off that the tenant was selling drugs from the home and had installed camera surveillance equipment.
Gipson, who was the superintendent of the Erie County Holding Center and the Alden jail at the time, had taken a lunch break to check out the tip.
When he began investigating, the tenant fled, and Gipson called 911. Among those who responded was Police Officer Ann Vanyo, who has been cited as a person who will testify in the disciplinary hearing that Gipson was found at the house.
The law enforcement source said Vanyo did not know Gipson, who had previously retired from the Buffalo Police Department to take the job with the Erie County Sheriff's Office.
Before Gipson agreed to rent the house to the man, he told the prospective tenant that he did not want drugs being sold there and that he was a member of law enforcement, the source said, adding that a warrant was later issued for the former tenant.
Because he has to make the final ruling on the hearing officer's findings, Gipson has not attended the hearings involving Officer Cariol J. Horne. He has not commented on the drug accusation made by an attorney for Horne.
"That's why he can't comment now," Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said. "In due time, when the hearing is over and a decision is rendered, the commissioner will comment."
DeGeorge added that there has been an outpouring of support from the community.
"This includes political leaders, community leaders and ministers. All of them have contacted the police commissioner by phone or e-mail today expressing their strong support for him and letting him know they are outraged by the comments," DeGeorge said.
At the same time, current and former members of the Buffalo Police Department have dismissed the statements made by Horne attorney Anthony L. Pendergrass as outrageously false.
"Absolutely nonsense. I served 10 years in Narcotics, and Gipson's name never, ever, ever came up in any allegation," said Detective Sgt. Billy Crawford. "I'm the guy who was making the undercover buys of heroin and crack. I was in every dope house in Buffalo, and that never came up. I worked with [the federal Drug Enforcement Administration], and I have heard allegations against other police officers, but never against McCarthy Gipson."
Edward Hempling, who served as commander of the Narcotics and Vice Unit and later as a top city police administrator before retiring, pointed out that Gipson established the force's random drug-testing program for officers.
"Gipson began the drug-testing program for the Buffalo Police Department," Hempling said. "He didn't go into that as a reformed druggie. He went in there to make sure officers didn't utilize drugs."
He also noted that addicts, particularly those using crack cocaine, are unable to behave in a normal manner and that their erratic behavior betrays them.
Hempling said that he never once saw Gipson behave in a manner that was less than professional, "and I've known him more than 30 years."
Retired Buffalo police Lt. Larry J. Baehre had never heard of Gipson having any drug problem, and he rode with him in patrol cars in the city's Michigan and Genesee precincts years ago.
"I never heard anything like that or had any inkling like that," Baehre said Tuesday. "He was always strait-laced, a great guy and a fine individual."
Daniel R. O'Neill, one of the department's most highly decorated patrol officers, said rank-and-file officers are shocked that someone would make that kind of accusation.
"I never heard anything remotely like that, and if it had happened, it would have spread like wildfire, not only through the district, but the entire city," O'Neill said, adding that he worked for Gipson when he was a patrol supervisor.
"I had the opportunity to work with him a number of years, and he was an upstanding, hardworking guy who knew the job," O'Neill said. "Gipson is the best commissioner I've worked for, and I've been a police officer almost 20 years."
News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this report.