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LIEUTENANT IN INCIDENT SUSPENDED WITHOUT PAY

A Buffalo police lieutenant accused of terrorizing a group of people in South Buffalo early Saturday was suspended without pay today after department officials charged him with conduct unbecoming an officer.

Lt. Michael Schuta of the South District had been suspended with pay following the 3 a.m. incident Saturday on Smith Street.

Four people have claimed that the lieutenant, still dressed in his uniform and talking incoherently, held his service weapon against some of the people's heads and threatened to kill them.

The department's Professional Standards Division will conduct its own investigation into the matter and submit its findings to the Erie County district attorney's office for possible prosecution, Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said today.

Schuta is accused of leaving his on-duty post without permission, then driving to the Smith Street address in a pickup truck. Police sources today said they had no idea why he went there or whether he knew anyone among the people he allegedly terrorized. Schuta was working the 9 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift.

Sunday, Lt. Duane Rizzo, a police spokesman, acting on Kerlikowske's behalf, issued a public apology over the incident.

"I'd like to reiterate that apology," the commissioner said today. "People expect when they see an officer in uniform that he's there to help and be trusted. An action like the one alleged here doesn't help in fostering that trust."

Members of the group that was terrorized claimed the lieutenant was apparently drunk. He wasn't charged with drunken driving because police didn't confront him until he had returned to the South District building, Kerlikowske said.

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