As a bowler pocketed his $21 refund just after midnight at the Kenmore Lanes in February, he had to contend with an off-duty Kenmore police officer – moonlighting as a security guard – who took issue with the patron’s complaints.
Angry words were exchanged. The patron’s friend tried to intervene.
Then, within seconds, the off-duty officer drew his sidearm and – without any threat of deadly force against him – put the barrel to the head of the would-be mediator, according to the bowlers’ accounts.
On-duty Kenmore police soon arrived and the two bowlers were arrested.
But after the bowlers told their story to Kenmore police officials, the moonlighting Kenmore cop didn’t work another day in uniform.
And when the Village Board met June 3, it accepted the resignation of a “village employee,” who officials later confirmed was Jeffrey R. Mang, 30, a nephew of Kenmore’s mayor.
“There was no special treatment,” Kenmore Police Chief Peter J. Breitnauer said of the three-month internal investigation into the incident. “There was no cutting corners.”
Jeffrey Mang, who joined the force in 2009, did not respond to two interview requests from The Buffalo News.
The News pieced together this story about what happened at the Kenmore Lanes on Feb. 16 after filing Freedom of Information requests and talking to the two bowlers at the center of the incident and village sources with knowledge of the situation.
The incident at the Kenmore bowling alley represents another instance of alleged misconduct by off-duty police working as security for private employers.
The Kenmore altercation occurred three months before William C. Sager Jr. was pushed down a flight of stairs at Buffalo’s Molly’s Pub on May 11 – as the pub’s security team of two off-duty Buffalo police officers stood just steps away.
But now that the event at Kenmore Lanes has come to light, it appears to be another cautionary tale about the conflicting allegiances that arise when sworn officers in New York work off-duty security directly for bar owners.
New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law blocks police officers from having any interest in the sale or manufacture of alcohol. For years, Buffalo’s top police officials allowed their officers to moonlight directly for bar owners if they stayed outside the establishments and focused on crowd control.
In the wake of the Molly’s assault, and then the State Liquor Authority’s pronouncement that Buffalo’s policy was illegal, the Buffalo police commissioner banned the practice.
Kenmore has for decades allowed its officers to work security directly for the Kenmore Lanes if they stay outside the bar area that Kenmore Lanes operates.
“When these guys are working in Kenmore Lanes, they cannot go into the bar,” said Breitnauer, the police chief. “They can’t walk in the bar. They can’t interfere in issues in the bar. They can’t bounce. They can’t check proof ... we abide by the ABC Law.”
Drinking colored the atmosphere at Kenmore Lanes that February night. Although Mang did not venture into the bar, the bowlers bring their drinks back to their lanes. In fact, one of the bowlers in custody was uncuffed and made to pay his bar tab before being taken to the police station.
Roger Krieger, a former administrator for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and a retired police chief for Crystal River, Fla., believes Kenmore police are splitting hairs.
“With the bar being part of the bowling alley, the drinking people are obviously overflowing into the bowling alley section, so there is no realistic way of separating the two out, as much as you might like to,” Krieger said.
In Crystal River, bar owners who want police to work as their security guards request them from the police department, and pay the police department, not the officers, for their overtime. The officers are considered on-duty. There is no question who they are working for.
The bowlers who clashed with Mang said he argued with them not as a police officer but as an employee of Kenmore Lanes upset that the bowlers had demanded a refund.
The two were local college students out with four other friends. Their enjoyment soured as the bowlers in the next lane became more obnoxious as the night progressed, according to one of the bowlers, who ended up in the dispute with Mang. He and his friend spoke to The News on the condition that they not be identified because of the possibility it could hinder their job searches.
Both men were reluctant to discuss the episode and expressed a desire to put it behind them. Although Mang’s actions seemed to qualify as “menacing” under New York’s Penal Law, the two bowlers chose not to press criminal charges.
One of the bowlers went to the desk to inquire about a refund, and their group of six was given back the $21 spent for their third and final game. That’s when Mang approached him to ask why the bowler had not complained sooner.
Mang told the bowler he should fight the group from the next lane, who were by then apparently outside waiting to confront them in the parking lot, according to the bowler, who is 23 and was attending SUNY Buffalo State at the time.
He and the security guard – the bowler says he did not know Mang also was a cop – started to argue. He said he told Mang that had Mang been doing his job of providing security, the night would have gone differently.
“That made him upset. That’s when he grabbed me by my neck and the whole thing began,” the 23-year-old bowler said.
His friend, 27, saw the argument escalate. He said he stepped between the two and told the security guard to get his hands off his friend.
“At that point was when the gun was put to my head,” the 27-year-old said.
“I’ll (expletive) kill you,” Mang screamed, according to the 27-year-old. “I’ll blow you away.”
“I was scared for my life,” the bowler said later.
Mang shoved the 27-year-old’s head on the desk counter and handcuffed him, the bowler said.
On-duty police were called, and the police report describes a chaotic scene at that point.
“There was a lot of people upset and trying to explain what happened,” an officer wrote in the report, which The News obtained under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.
Mang reported that the 27-year-old had spit in his face. The 27-year-old said he did not remember doing so. But he was cited with harassment and disorderly conduct, both violations under New York law.
The 23-year-old was also cited with disorderly conduct. All the violations were later adjourned in contemplation of dismissal in village court.
The report made no mention of Mang’s decision to pull his weapon. The two bowlers complained about it later at Police Headquarters and the next morning when the 27-year-old said he filed a formal complaint.
When asked about the bowlers’ version of events, Brietnauer would not comment publicly.
“Our department followed up to the letter of the law,” he said. “We did exactly what we had to do.”
But Mang was placed on paid administrative leave, suspended for 30 days and again placed on leave, officials said, before he resigned from the force.
Police in New York can use deadly force to, among other things, defend themselves or someone else from what they reasonably believe to be the use, or imminent use, of deadly force.
“If he didn’t have a situation where his life was threatened, if there was no one else’s life being threatened, then the drawing of the weapon was totally improper,” Krieger said.
Village officials noted in 2009 that Mang was at the top of a civil service list for the job. A graduate of Kenmore West High School, Mang earned an associate degree from Erie Community College and was a member of the Kenmore Fire Department. He earned $70,538 in 2013, according to the SeethroughNY.net website operated by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
The police report also described a final step that had to be completed before the two bowlers could be led away. The on-duty officers were told there was an outstanding bar tab. So the 23-year-old was uncuffed in order to settle up.
Breitnauer said he has no plans to change the department’s policy on officers working off-duty.
“The off-duty policy that exists within the Kenmore Police Department for working off-duty jobs is sufficient and I really don’t see a reason to change it right now,” he said.
The bowlers said they were satisfied with the way the department handled their complaint.
“I’m satisfied that he didn’t get away with it and I’m satisfied that we didn’t get charged with something that we didn’t deserve,” the 23-year-old said. “I didn’t want to see him just get away with it, act like nothing happened. I really thought at the time that that’s what was going to happen.”
Breitnauer stressed that the department took the complaint seriously.
“We did exactly what we had to do,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate situation but we did what we had to do.”