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A Buffalo criminal lawyer has accused the Buffalo Police Department of violating the rights of "tens of thousands" of ex-criminal suspects by failing to return mug shots and other arrest documents to them after their cases were dismissed in the courts.

Attorney Mark J. Mahoney, in a notice of claim he described as the first step in a class-action lawsuit, accused the department of routinely delaying the return of such documents for about a year, and in some cases failing to ever return them.

Mahoney said other local and state law enforcement agencies routinely seal case records in the event that charges are dismissed or reduced to non-criminal offenses, then return the documents within 60 days after receiving court orders to seal the records.

Mahoney said he has five clients -- four men and a woman -- who represent the "class" of plaintiffs that have been waiting for Buffalo police records for up to five years since their cases were closed in local courts.

Mahoney said he will seek court permission to launch a class-action suit in State Supreme Court for money damages for any former criminal suspects who suffered subsequent false arrests or had employment or personal problems because of the delays.

Under state law, the Police Department is required to return arrest documents to former criminal suspects within an undefined time frame, which other agencies have taken to be one to two months, Mahoney said.

He said the lawsuit will deal with cases handled in Buffalo City Court, Erie County Court and State Supreme Court in which the Buffalo police were arresting officers.

Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman declined to comment on pending court proceedings.

Mahoney said potential plaintiffs don't have to contact his law firm because their identities will be revealed in Buffalo police files once the lawsuit gets under way.

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