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POLICE OFFICER SUSPENDED OVER FIREWORKS SHOW

Police Capt. John W. Cross was suspended without pay Monday, and a criminal investigation is under way in connection with a fireworks show in a residential neighborhood.

Cross, 47, a 27-year veteran of the Lockport Police Department, also operates a fireworks business. That company, Pyrotechnico, has provided the city's official Independence Day fireworks show for several years.

Friday night, Cross was attending the 30th anniversary reunion of the Lockport High School Class of 1969 and fired off a brief fireworks show from the backyard of the host's home on Pine Street.

The result was dozens of calls to the police and fire departments about explosions, and reports of property damage caused by falling sparks and ashes. In one case, embers burned through the roof of a garage and damaged a boat stored inside. The neighborhood was reported strewn with shell casings.

Police Chief Neil B. Merritt said he suspended Cross for three days. Under Lockport rules, that's the longest suspension the chief can impose on his own authority.

Cross could not be reached Monday. He took a personal day and did not report to work, but Merritt said he summoned the patrol captain to Police Headquarters and informed him personally of the suspension from his $53,374-a-year job.

Suspensions longer than three days can be meted out only by the Board of Police Commissioners, a four-member civilian board appointed by the mayor. The mayor himself plays no role in its decisions.

Council President Michael W. Tucker, the sole elected official on the Police Board, said it met behind closed doors Monday. He declined to reveal anything of its proceedings.

Merritt said he expects the board to meet again Thursday to review the results of the investigation and decide if Cross' suspension should be extended.

"We're hoping to have (the investigation) done by Thursday," Merritt said.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the probe is being carried out by Lockport detectives, who are gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses. The host of the party, Jeffrey G. Harmon, said he provided police with a partial guest list.

Ottaviano said that once the investigation is done, the results will be presented to the district attorney's office.

Ottaviano said, "Myself and the chief will sit down with (First Assistant District Attorney Timothy R.) Lundquist and see if criminal charges are warranted."

The city's lawyer said various sections of city and state law are being reviewed.

Cross was off-duty at the time of the incident, and City Clerk Richard P. Mullaney said he concluded that no city permits were necessary for the fireworks display when Cross asked him about it last month.

But Ottaviano said, "There are certain standards of conduct for police officers. Whether this reaches that, I don't know."

Mayor Kenneth D. Swan, who was briefed on the situation by two Police Board members after their meeting Monday, said the state Department of Labor is being asked for advice on job-related penalties for Cross.

Meanwhile, Ottaviano said he will recommend an amendment to the City Code to cover fireworks shows. Swan said currently the only approval needed is from the Common Council, which was not informed of the fireworks plans for the high school reunion.

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