The prosecution of Rachel Winter – the daughter of a former Niagara County assistant district attorney – ended earlier this month when a judge dismissed her drunken driving charge and she admitted to failure to keep right and an equipment violation.
But the reverberations of her case continue.
Orleans County District Attorney Joseph V. Cardone, who handled the case as a special prosecutor, said Wednesday that her driving while intoxicated case was "very improperly handled" by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.
Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti replied that Cardone "did not do his job."
Now, the state Office of Court Administration is getting involved.
"We're looking into the circumstances regarding the dismissal," said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the office.
Niagara Falls City Judge Robert P. Merino apologized to Winter earlier this month as he dismissed a drunken driving charge lodged against her by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.
The case looked tangled from the beginning. The Sheriff's Office filed a DWI charge against Winter, 21, four months after her arrest. When she was pulled over the night of Nov. 24 in Lockport, Deputy Timothy Caughel wanted to file a DWI charge, according to Filicetti.
But Filicetti has said the DWI charge was not brought at the time because Caughel's supervisor that night, Lt. Steve Broderick, was doing a favor for Winter's father, Ronald J. Winter, the former assistant Niagara County district attorney. Filicetti said the ex-prosecutor came to Sheriff's Headquarters that night and talked to Broderick.
The department later brought an unspecified "administrative action" against Broderick, who is also Town of Lewiston supervisor.
Cardone was named special prosecutor in the case because of the connections of Ronald Winter, who now serves as confidential law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.
Asked if he is being investigated by the state court agency that employs him, Ronald Winter said, "Not to my knowledge."
"I feel this was very improperly handled by the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, that there was inadequate proof of her (Rachel Winter's) intoxication," Cardone said.
"Joe Cardone did not do his job," Filicetti said. "Right out of the gate, when he first met with me, he did not want Rachel Winter charged with DWI. He discouraged us from laying the proper charge that the deputy intended to lay that night."
"I think his comments are inappropriate," Cardone responded.
The Sheriff's Office said Ronald Winter came to the office, intervened to prevent a DWI charge from being filed against his daughter, and convinced Broderick to tell Caughel not to file the charge. Broderick has said he is not able to discuss the matter.
Broderick was the subject of an undisclosed internal administrative action, as was his commander that night, Capt. Jill Herrington.
"Persons in the Sheriff's Department viewed Steve Broderick as a potential candidate for sheriff and sought to discredit him, and used this case to do it," Ronald Winter said after his daughter's DWI charge was dismissed.
"I stand by my statement that I wasn't looking for any favor," Ronald Winter added Wednesday.
"That's totally false," Filicetti said. "I have video evidence of him asking for this not to happen for his daughter."
That video, taken by Caughel's body cam, also reportedly shows Rachel Winter's field sobriety tests and the conversation between Broderick and Caughel. Filicetti said the department would not release the tape.
Cardone said the video was the primary reason he didn't object to a defense motion to throw out the DWI and reckless driving charges.
He said he asked two police drug recognition experts and some Orleans County sheriff's deputies to look at the tape of Rachel Winter's field sobriety tests.
"There was an absolute consensus that she wasn't intoxicated, based upon the video," Cardone said.
He added that Rachel Winter was not asked to take a breath test.
"I looked at the video, and I have a different determination than he does," Filicetti said.
He added that Caughel also is a trained drug recognition expert.
"It's crystal clear from the video that Rachel Winter was not intoxicated at the time of her initial arrest," defense attorney Theresa L. Prezioso said, adding that Merino viewed the tape and the charging documents.
Filicetti said Cardone should have pursued the case and put Caughel on the witness stand.
"The deputy was on the stand through the video," Cardone said.