Four young people cruising in search of a party after a homecoming dance at West Seneca West Senior High School Saturday encountered what they described as terror at the hands of the Blasdell police.
Tuesday, Officers Joseph LaRosa and David Czerwiec were placed on indefinite unpaid suspensions after investigators took statements from three of the four youths, according to Town of Hamburg Police Capt. Thomas Best, who oversees the Village of Blasdell's part-time police force.
LaRosa, also a part-time Village of Hamburg police officer, will not work for that department until the situation has been resolved, according to Village of Hamburg Police Chief John Jablonski.
The youths told police that they had pulled into the parking lot of a bar on Route 5 in Hamburg so one of the girls in their car could use the tavern's restroom. As her three companions waited inside the vehicle, they said they noticed two men in the lot staring at them.
"We stared back, wondering why they were staring at us, when one of the guys lifted his sweater and pulled out a black handgun and began waving it at us," said Thaddeus Witczak, 18.
"My friend Kenny, who was driving, got out of the car and asked them what was the problem. The guy pointed the gun right in Kenny's face and told him to get up against the car. Then, he pointed the gun at me and my girlfriend and told us to get out of the car," Witczak said.
The armed man stumbled and slurred his words as he and his companion identified themselves as off-duty police officers, according to Witczak and Kenneth Labombard. It was about 2 a.m. Sunday.
"I didn't want to be sitting in my car with a gun being waved at me, so I got out and he came running at me saying put my hands against the car. He couldn't stand straight," Labombard said.
Witczak, his sister Julie, 16; Witczak's girlfriend, Jessica Fabianski, 15, all of West Seneca; and Labombard, 20, of Buffalo, were all listed on the complaint against the officers, Best said.
Best said the two officers dispute the youths' account.
"The officers are denying the allegations and they are cooperating 100 percent. They have an attorney and I've been told they will make statements, but in the presence of the lawyer," Best said. "If they did do this, they're going to pay the consequences."
Witczak said LaRosa and Czerwiec refused requests to show badges identifying them as police officers:
"We said we wanted some identification and they said they were 'from the East District of the Hamburg police.' When my sister came out of the bar from going to the bathroom, she turned around to go back in and get help, but the same guy with the gun pointed it at her and told her to get against the car.
"They patted us down and the one without the gun went into the bar with our identification to call and see if there were warrants against us. The other guy put the gun away and my girlfriend asked why he had pointed the gun at us.
"He and his friend later said that never happened."
Before letting the four young people leave, the men allegedly made the youths empty several unopened cans of beer stored in a cooler inside their car.
After leaving the bar's parking lot on the 4000 block of Lake Shore Road, the four drove a short distance to another nightspot and said they sought help from two men parked in a vehicle.
"They handed us a cell phone and we called 911 and Hamburg police responded. After the police arrived and listened to our story, we returned to the other bar and met Lt. (William) Lickfield. He went in the bar with Jessica. She saw the two men sitting inside.
"She walked back out and told the lieutenant those were the men and he went back in and then came out and told us that they really were Blasdell police officers. He gave us the name of their captain and told us we would have to call him because the captain is their superior," said Witczak.
Best, who also works as the part-time chief of police in Blasdell, said that Hamburg town officers did respond to the 911 call and that the youths filed their complaint at 3 a.m. Sunday.
Declining to say which of the two officers drew the gun, Best pointed out that while several full-time Town of Hamburg officers work part time for the smaller departments in the town's two villages, none of those officers was accused of taking part in the alleged incident.