The Lancaster Town Board got a tongue-lashing Tuesday for "cowering" as two senior citizens were hauled away by police officers from a public meeting last week for trying to videotape it.
The Town Board should have come to the rescue, instead of watching "with the look of deer in the headlights" as he and a friend were removed, Henry Gull, 67, told the board.
Gull and fellow gadfly Jim Guenther were dragged from the premises -- by order of Police Chief Thomas Fowler -- for refusing to remove their video camera at a public forum called by Fowler to respond to allegations that he is "tyrannical" and vindictive.
Neither man reported being seriously injured, although Gull says he has experienced pain in his arm since the incident and has contacted an attorney about filing charges against the department.
Both men returned to the meeting a short time later, without the video camera.
Fowler says he banned non-media video cameras to prevent the session from being used in an unfairly edited fashion in the future.
The men -- vocal critics of the chief -- were given warnings. But when police tried to take the camera, the men latched on and ended up being dragged out with it.
The incident last week has added fuel to the controversy over Fowler, who critics -- including the police officers' union -- say is fostering fear among officers and some of the public alike.
"The Town Board sat transfixed, cowering . . . while two citizens were mauled," Gull said.
"It was a disgrace to Lancaster," said Mel Brown, another audience member, "that this is how we treat people here."
Neither Fowler nor the board members responded publicly to Gull and the handful of others who criticized both the chief's decision and the Town Board for not intervening.
After the meeting, however, Supervisor Robert Giza defended himself and his colleagues.
"Nobody was getting hurt," Giza said of the incident. "Just because you're old doesn't mean you can break the rules. Everybody has to adhere to the rules."
Deputy Supervisor Mark Montour, who has criticized the chief as being "tyrannical," was less supportive of Fowler.
"The chief set the rules," he said. "I obviously don't agree with his method of enforcing the rules."
But he, too, defended the board.
"I don't think you could say (the board was) cowering," Montour said. "It happened rather quickly."