Judge’s ruling will unseal tapes of murder suspect’s talks with Cheektowaga teachers - The Buffalo News

Share this article

print logo

Judge’s ruling will unseal tapes of murder suspect’s talks with Cheektowaga teachers

Police plan to release tapes of phone conversations three Cheektowaga Central High School teachers had with Dontre Jones when he was in jail facing charges in a fatal shooting in Cheektowaga Town Park.

The Cheektowaga Police Department’s decision comes in the wake of a court ruling turning down a bid for a court order to have the recordings sealed.

Carl Morgan said he and fellow attorney John Gilmour, who represent one of the teachers, sought the order last week in a hearing before State Supreme Court Justice John M. Curran.

Morgan said he and Gilmour contended that the conversations should be sealed as part of the criminal investigation in the Jones case.

He said the judge ruled that there was no proof that the conversations were part of the police investigation, and as a result, the tapes do not have to be sealed.

Cheektowaga police indicated Friday that they plan to release the tapes in the next couple of weeks.

Morgan said he understands that the Cheektowaga Central School District is investigating the teachers to determine if disciplinary action should be taken against them because of their conversations with the former Cheektowaga Central student.

He said Police Chief David Zack provided the transcript of at least one of the conversations to the district in August in connection with its investigation.

Jeffrey Swiatek, an attorney for the school district, could not be reached to comment on the investigation.

Before he was found guilty of manslaughter this year in the May 31, 2011, shooting death, Jones, 19, was calling the three teachers from jail during school hours.

Those phone conversations outraged police, who have sought to make their content public and to hold the teachers, now on paid administrative leave, accountable.

The anger was palpable at an Aug. 22 news conference when Zack said he wasn’t able to release details of the conversations because of the threat of legal action.

“I can assure the public that we are not intimidated,” Zack said.

According to police, Jones had attended classes at Cheektowaga Central until shortly before the shooting that killed Ira Watkins Jr., 19, of Buffalo. Though the shooting was related to an earlier argument between rival gangs from Buffalo, police said, neither Jones nor Watkins was involved in the dispute.

Jones telephoned the teachers from behind bars between February 2012, when he was charged with second-degree murder, and this past June, when he was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter in a nonjury trial. He was sentenced Aug. 26 to 25 years in prison by Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka.

In August, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said of the phone conversations between the teachers and Jones: “The conduct in question does not rise to a criminal offense under the laws of the State of New York.”

He declined to comment on the content or nature of the conversations.

He said then that he didn’t “have a problem with them being made public.”

“It’s not part of the criminal investigation or anything,” he said. “It’s not mine to release or not to release.”

email: jstaas@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment