West Seneca police, court deny access to public records on arrest in fatal DWI - The Buffalo News
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West Seneca police, court deny access to public records on arrest in fatal DWI

More than a week after the two-car crash that claimed the life of West Seneca Democratic Chairman Daniel S. McParlane, town police and court officials have yet to release public documents connected with an arrest in the case.

The West Seneca Police Department continues to refuse to provide even basic police blotter records regarding Robert J. Styn, who was charged with driving while intoxicated following the crash Nov. 27 on Indian Church Road.

The West Seneca Justice Court, meanwhile, agreed late Wednesday to release court documents that it previously refused to provide, but only after state court officials interceded.

The West Seneca Court Clerk’s Office said that it would provide the documents after The Buffalo News threatened legal action and the state Office of Court Administration intervened, explaining that the documents are public records. The Court Clerk’s Office closed minutes after The News filed a written document seeking the case file and did not forward the records as promised Wednesday.

State officials say the court documents are public records and should be released upon request, while the refusal of the Police Department to provide its documents thwarts the intent of the Freedom of Information Law.

“Basic information should be available,” said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government. “Certainly, the police blotter or its equivalent should be routinely disclosed.”

The News has sought the information since shortly after the 12:10 a.m. crash, visiting Town Hall several times.

But police denied any information beyond a four-sentence news release it issued late Nov. 27, announcing the arrest of Styn for DWI. The news release only indicated that the fatal crash involving McParlane occurred on Indian Church Road and that weather conditions may have been a factor.

McParlane, 33, was also an Erie County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Holding Center. He had attended a meeting of the Democratic Town Chairs Association earlier in the evening in Curly’s Restaurant, Lackawanna, and then met with Democratic Legislator-elect Patrick B. Burke in a South Buffalo pub before the crash occurred.

Police and court officials will not release basic information such as the age and address of the defendant. Erie County Board of Elections records list two people named Robert J. Styn living in West Seneca.

The town’s refusal to provide the records denies answers to several questions, including how the collision occurred, whether the victim died at the scene or in a hospital, whether the victim’s vehicle may have contributed to the collision, whether Styn was injured, whether any information on blood alcohol content is available, whether any passengers were involved, and why no other charges were filed.

Police Chief Daniel M. Denz, who did not return two telephone calls Tuesday seeking the records, told a reporter at Police Headquarters on Wednesday that the crash remains under investigation and that releasing any further information would violate department “procedure.”

Denz said that any request for information must be submitted in a Freedom of Information form to the town attorney, which a records clerk indicated Monday must be approved by the town attorney and could take up to 10 days for a response.

But Freeman indicated that a Freedom of Information request should not be required for routine matters, though it might prove necessary – and could be denied – in conjunction with some aspects of an ongoing investigation. But he also said that the town, technically, can require the Freedom of Information request, which he said contradicts the intent of the law to make public such documents “whenever and wherever feasible.”

“Why would it take 10 days?” Freeman asked. “We’re talking one piece of paper. It should never take that long.

“The purpose of the Freedom of Information Law is to make life easy, not difficult,” he added.

The Court Clerk’s Office, meanwhile, originally said that it would not provide any information until Styn’s arraignment at 7 p.m. Dec. 17.

“Per our judge’s orders, we do not release anything on pending, open cases,” said an office employee who would not give her name earlier in the week. Town Justice Jeffrey M. Harrington did not return a Wednesday request for a phone call to discuss the case.

Freeman said the law requires any records to be available immediately upon acquisition by the court. He also said that if information is released to the parties involved, it should be available for anyone, and that the information constitutes public records and “not the judge’s records.”

“The proceedings are open to the public, so that makes no sense,” he said, adding, “We don’t have secret arrests in this country.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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