Lockport attorney Ronald J. Winter tried to use his position as a former prosecutor and his connection with a Niagara County Sheriff's lieutenant to prevent the arrest of his daughter on a drunken driving charge last year, a police video shows.
"Do you recognize my name at all?" Winter asked Deputy Timothy Caughel, the arresting officer, in a telephone call picked up by the microphone on Caughel's body cam. "I used to be the chief homicide prosecutor for Niagara County. I worked in the DA's office for 18 years."
He also asked the deputy on three separate occasions during the conversation to drop the charges, after the deputy already had placed Rachel J. Winter in handcuffs, put her in the back seat of his patrol vehicle, and told her she was under arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Caughel had reported the arrest on the police radio before allowing Rachel Winter, 21, to use her cellphone to call her father, a former Niagara County assistant district attorney who now serves as confidential law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.
The tape, which was entered into evidence in Niagara Falls City Court, was released by the court upon a request from The Buffalo News.
The state Office of Court Administration earlier this week said it is investigating the case, which ended May 16 with Niagara Falls City Judge Robert P. Merino dismissing DWI and reckless driving charges against Rachel Winter. She pleaded guilty to two vehicle and traffic violations. She was given a conditional discharge and paid $146 in surcharges.
"The video speaks for itself," Niagara County Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti said Thursday when The Buffalo News asked him about what the video shows.
He said the tape was turned over to Office of Court Administration for its probe.
"We use discretion in law enforcement all the time. We used discretion that night," said Lt. Steve Broderick, who talked to Winter and Caughel about the case. "In hindsight, whether it was right or wrong, people can judge that."
Winter did not return phone messages seeking comment.
"Is there any way to not have this happen? Is there anything we can do?" Ronald Winter is heard on the video asking Caughel, after telling the deputy about his years in the DA's Office during their conversation in the early hours of Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24. Caughel had stopped the lawyer's daughter near Lockport High School.
When Caughel told Winter that he already had executed the arrest, Winter asked, "So this isn't going away, huh?"
When the deputy explained that he had stopped Rachel Winter because she was driving without headlights and crossed the center line while turning from Lincoln Avenue to Locust Street, the attorney commented, "Well, that's a good reason."
There was some discussion of whether Rachel Winter should agree to take the Breathalyzer test - her father at first was against it before her father again asked if something could be done.
"No way to turn this around, huh? There's nothing we can do?" Ronald Winter asked Caughel.
"We've already called out that she's under arrest," the deputy answered. "At this stage, it's gonna have to take its natural course, I guess."
The tape captures most of a telephone discussion between the Winters over the breath test. When Ronald Winter had a chance to speak to Caughel again, Winter said he wanted to have a chance to see his daughter's condition for himself before making a decision.
"She says she's not that bad," Ronald Winter told the deputy.
Caughel said he would have to ask his supervisors whether Winter would be allowed to see his daughter before the breath test.
Winter then asked Caughel who his supervisors were.
"Lt. Broderick and Capt. Herrington," Caughel answered, also referring to Capt. Jill Herrington.
"Steve Broderick," Winter said.
"You know Broderick," Rachel Winter told her father.
Caughel apparently already knew that.
Caughel phoned Broderick to ask whether she should be allowed to call her father from the scene instead of waiting until she was brought to the Sheriff's Office.
"Is it Ron Winter who her father is?" Broderick asked.
"I think so," Caughel answered.
"I know him very, very well," Broderick replied. "When my uncle was the DA, he was his first assistant DA, so if she wants to call him, I got no issues."
Broderick then asked, "How drunk is she?"
"She couldn't pass any of the tests," Caughel replied. "She had most of the clues. The only one she did OK on was the one-leg stand."
The field sobriety tests administered to Rachel Winter are partially captured on the video.
Orleans County DA Joseph V. Cardone, who was assigned to the case as a special prosecutor, told The Buffalo News that he asked two trained drug recognition experts and Orleans County sheriff's deputies to view the tape.
They concluded Rachel Winter was not intoxicated, according to Cardone.
Broderick asked Caughel to wait for a moment and then said, in an apparent reference to Ronald Winter, "I thought I had his number. I don't have his number. You know what? If she's gonna refuse (the breath test), at this point, don't even mention my name, OK? That would probably be the best thing. If I have to come in and do the test, I'll come in and do the test."
Caughel asked Broderick if he wanted to impose "$250 jail bail."
Broderick hesitated, then replied, "Yeah, yeah, 'cuz he can come up with it real quick."
Caughel signed off by saying he had wanted to know if Rachel could call her father from the scene, and Broderick answered, "Let me know what he says."
The video shows Caughel's drive to the Sheriff's Office and the handcuffed woman being asked to sit on a bench and answer questions for an arrest report. Broderick walks in, but before he can say anything, the tape cuts off.
Another video clip showed Broderick walking down a hallway, looking at a cellphone and saying that a call had gone to voice mail. He mentioned a phone number and asked if that was right.
Rachel Winter's voice is heard saying, "Correct. Do you want me to call our house?"
"No, because he's on his way down here. You try his cellphone," Broderick answered.
Rachel Winter apparently made the call, on speakerphone.
Ronald Winter's voice is heard asking, "Rachel?"
"Hey, Ron. Steve. Where are you?" Broderick said.
He gave the attorney directions on how to get into the office.
Broderick then approaches Caughel's camera, saying something in a low voice, but it's partially drowned out by the noise of Caughel fiddling with the equipment.
"...do a reckless?" were the last words audible from Broderick.
"That's totally up to you," Caughel said.
"You gotta be OK with it," Broderick answered before the tape cuts off.
On that night, Rachel Winter was charged with reckless driving, not DWI. The Sheriff's Office reinstated the DWI charge March 5, after an internal investigation that ended with an unspecified "administrative action" against Broderick and Herrington.
Cardone explained the charge of reckless driving was inappropriate because her actions did not meet the legal definition of reckless driving.
"She wasn't charged with reckless driving because she was recklessly driving," he said. "She was charged with reckless driving because the superior officer at the Niagara County Sheriff's Department suggested that in lieu of the DWI. So it's just inappropriate that she was charged with the reckless driving."
Cardone previously has said that the Niagara County Sheriff's Department "very improperly handled" the case.
"There was inadequate proof of her (Rachel Winter's) intoxication," Cardone said.