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OFFICER FIRED, MUST REPAY $444 FOR PADDING VOUCHERS

Buffalo Police Officer Timothy Hunter was fired from the Police Department Monday, ordered to repay the city $444 and to perform community service for padding his court-time pay vouchers.

Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart sent a dismissal letter to Hunter, 24, hours after he was sentenced by City Judge Margaret R. Anderson for illegally adding 39 hours of court time to his pay vouchers in 1988 and 1989.

Degenhart disputed complaints from Hunter's lawyer and several Common Council members about Hunter being prosecuted for the "sins" of many police officers who also allegedly pad their vouchers.

In response to claims by Council President George A. Arthur and Ellicott Council Member James W. Pitts that Hunter was singled out because he is black, Degenhart said he was "sick" of black politicians complaining about departmental affairs without knowing all the facts.

Hunter, a four-year police veteran, is the only officer ever found to have illegally padded his court vouchers, Degenhart said. But the department would not hesitate to prosecute other offenders, he said.

"If anyone knows of any other coppers who have padded their court vouchers, bring them to our attention and we'll be glad to go after them," Degenhart said.

Degenhart said he fired Hunter because the officer's misconduct "goes to his oath of office to uphold the laws of the State of New York."

Arthur and Pitts, who attended Hunter's sentencing, branded his case "selective enforcement" of departmental policies. But they said they had no complaints about the handling of the case by the Erie County district attorney's office or by the judge. Arthur also called the sentence "fair."

Pitts called Hunter's case "another example of how the Police Department takes an unbalanced view toward some police officers."

Pitts and Buffalo civil rights attorney David G. Jay, who represented Hunter, said some residents of the city's black community believe the case has racial overtones.

In pleading Hunter's case, Jay told the judge he didn't believe there was any racism linked to Hunter's prosecution but insisted padding court-time vouchers is "common" in the Police Department.

Hunter declined to comment. He had been on unpaid administrative leave since February when he was charged in the case. A day after his conviction, he was one of 35 Buffalo police officers honored for bravery by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.

At the close of a six-day non-jury trial, Judge Anderson convicted Hunter on May 21 of 17 counts of petit larceny for padding his billings on about 350 court appearances between September 1988 and April 1989.

Judge Anderson said she found Hunter's guilt to be "beyond doubt" and based on "overwhelming" evidence. The judge said she accepted a recommendation from the Erie County Probation Department to spare Hunter jail as a first offender.

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