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Editorial: Sheriff's office vs. the law

Release the documents.

Stop wasting taxpayer dollars.

Fix the jail.

These are instructions anyone should be able to follow. Make that anyone interested in the competent management of a department he has been charged with administering for more than a decade.

Yet the leadership failures of Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard continue to grow. The Erie County Legislature should haul him in for questioning and then consider reinstating a community advisory board.

This is not conjecture. Howard’s haphazard helmsmanship is costing lives, putting others in danger and ultimately costing taxpayers through avoidable hospitalizations and lawsuits.

The latest problem involves sheriff’s aides’ refusal to release basic records on inmate Jessica Huber, who contends she had not received most of the prescription medicines she took for migraines, bipolar disorder, depression, chronic back pain and other ailments. On Feb. 6, Huber was placed in the intensive care unit at Erie County Medical Center.

She pulled through. Now she and her family want to spotlight what they say is lax health care inside the Erie County Holding Center. The sheriff’s department would rather not cooperate by releasing basic information, straying from recent years’ practice in which officials followed the state’s Freedom of Information Law and released basic information about unusual incidents in the county’s jails. But officials there have denied a Buffalo News request for records about Huber, who was brought to Erie County Medical Center weeks ago.

The News is weighing its options for pursuing the Holding Center’s written report to Albany about Huber. The request is simple and, unless something is being misreported, the record should detail the jail’s initial explanation about Huber’s treatment. Information regarding public-funded property delivered by publicly-funded officials should be shared with the public that pays for it all.

The Buffalo chapter of the National Lawyers Guild might agree. The group said its request for records, filed early in 2017, was largely ignored by the Sheriff’s Office. Perhaps the problem rested in the request, itself – records that could indicate Howard’s team failed to report serious incidents to Albany. The Guild filed a lawsuit in February to retrieve those documents. Getting answers shouldn’t be this hard, yet it is.

Huber, a sex offender, is back in jail, but her complaint is legitimate . It deserves answers. Getting them starts with requiring the Sheriff’s Office to comply with the law which, ironically, is its job to enforce.

The public is paying for the abysmal management of the Sheriff’s Office and its jails. Its costs can only go higher given the poor decision-making by some deputies and staff and the chronic, ongoing failures of the man at the helm.

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