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WALTON CAN'T REVIEW HIS DISCIPLINARY FILE; BUT PROSECUTORS' USE OF IT SPARKS AN OUTCRY

Buffalo Police Officer Jonathan Walton is barred from reviewing the personal disciplinary file the Police Department keeps on him.

But prosecutors from the Erie County district attorney's office were allowed to examine the file and use its contents to discredit the testimony Walton gave Monday in the manslaughter trial of Officer Terrence Robinson.

"What's amazing about this whole thing is this officer has a personal and confidential file which was used to impeach his testimony by the prosecution," Lt. Robert P. Meegan, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said this week. "I want to know what is in my file before it goes to the (city) corporation counsel, to the DA's office or any agency."

PBA leaders acknowledged that the state Civil Rights Law permits the district attorney's office to view Walton's file. But union officials said Wednesday they are outraged because officers are not allowed to examine their own records.

Personal disciplinary files, updated throughout an officer's career, contain accusations of misconduct made against them by city residents.

Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart contends that officers who see complaints made against them could retaliate against the residents who made the complaints, and that could impede departmental investigatings.

"He may use some form of retribution against the people who made a complaint against him," Degenhart explained. "He could intimidate witnesses against him, threaten them."

During the Robinson trial Monday, prosecutor Albert M. Ranni attacked Walton's credibility by disclosing reports outlining alleged run-ins he had with police superiors, several women and a shop owner.

Union officials also are frustrated because the Police Department has not allowed them to review the personal disciplinary records of PBA Secretary Randie Joseph and the officers Degenhart has promoted in his 5-year tenure.

Officials of the Public Employment Relations Board, a state arbitration body, should also be allowed to see the file, said union leaders and PBA attorney Jim Schwan. PERB filed a civil subpoena last year on behalf of the PBA to obtain the records, and a State Supreme Court ruled in May that the records should be released.

Joseph was passed over for promotion to lieutenant, and PBA officials say his file will show that his background is not questionable, as police officials have claimed, Meegan said.

By comparing Joseph's record with those of some 70 officers promoted by Degenhart, the PBA hopes to show that Joseph was denied promotion because of his involvement in the union.

"Degenhart has so far refused to respond to this reasonable request," Meegan said. "This has to do with politics in the department -- there's no question of that."

Degenhart said that releasing the records of officers could "cause some great concern to the officers . . . It could embarrass the officers or their families."

Assistant Corporation Counsel R. Peter Morrow III said he has not determined if the city will appeal the State Supreme Court decision to the Appellate Division in Rochester.

"My plan will be to make sure that all the affected individuals will be notified of the effects of the decision," Morrow said. "These are all disciplinary files. They contain accusations that have no merit. They contain findings of wrongdoing but they occurred a long time ago."

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