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Lawmaker still seeks answers on SUV case Gipson angered by talk of coverup

A Buffalo lawmaker has asked the police commissioner to answer lingering questions about a probe that led to the mayor's son eventually confessing that he took the family SUV and crashed it into three parked vehicles.

"Some of us [on the Common Council] have the same questions that the media has been asking," said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana, who telephoned Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson on Tuesday.

The commissioner said he's willing to discuss the pending investigation with lawmakers in executive session. But Gipson made it clear Tuesday that he "takes umbrage" at media speculation that the Police Department may have engaged in a coverup to try to protect Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Callers to radio talk shows and visitors on numerous Internet blogs have voiced suspicions that Brown may have known his son took the car much earlier, then worked with the Police Department to cover it up.

"If there's anything I guard zealously, it's my professional reputation," Gipson told The Buffalo News.

He said his appointment as Buffalo's first African-American police commissioner is "historically significant," and he feels a special obligation to those who look up to him as a role model to protect the integrity of his office.

And Gipson claimed his detractors overlook one key point.

"You can't cover up a case that you ultimately solve," Gipson insisted.

Why did police officers wait nearly six weeks to interview Byron W. Brown III about the Feb. 24 incident that has since garnered regional attention? It was during that interview Thursday that the mayor's 16-year-old son admitted to a detective that he took the family's Chevrolet Equinox.

Gipson said a second videotape from a Canisius College surveillance camera was discovered about five weeks after the incident. That tape, he said, provided an additional piece of information that spurred police to question the mayor's son.

Without divulging specifics, Gipson said that the second tape provided a key "time frame" and that a cellular phone played a role. Gipson would not elaborate on whether that meant the images on the second tape showed an individual using a cell phone.

Only days after the new tape was discovered, Gipson said, officers asked to interview the teenager.

Fontana made it clear he's not in any way suggesting a coverup. But in response to a reporter's question, the 10-year Council veteran said he thinks lawmakers should seek answers to some of the lingering issues.

While Fontana is the only Council member to publicly call on Gipson to discuss the probe with the Council, at least three other lawmakers have privately expressed concerns about how the case has been handled. The questions include:

* Why didn't investigators dust the vehicle for fingerprints when it was recovered a few blocks from the mayor's home?

* Why haven't the videotapes been released?

* Why did Gipson immediately become involved in a stolen-vehicle case, even visiting the mayor's home the morning of the incident?

Council President David A. Franczyk thinks the latter question can be easily answered. Even with all the other crimes facing police officers, Franczyk said, when a vehicle owned by the mayor is reported stolen it will likely draw the attention of the city's top cop.

"It's just the nature of an imperfect organization, and any organization is imperfect," he said.

Franczyk said he doesn't think the Council should get involved in the case -- even in an informal way.

"Let the press scrutinize it, and let prosecutors do so if they're so inclined," he said. "We have bigger fish to fry."

The mayor's son is scheduled to appear Monday in City Court to face charges for leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a license.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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