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Officer saw no one leave mayor's home

A police officer stationed outside Mayor Byron W. Brown's home the morning the mayor's son took the family SUV did not see anyone leave the house, a Buffalo Police Department spokesman said Friday.

Michael J. DeGeorge, the spokesman, declined to identify the officer who was outside the Blaine Avenue home at about 5 a.m. Feb. 24, saying such information is not made public.

But a city lawmaker wants to talk with the officer. What the officer may have seen the morning 16-year-old Byron W. Brown Jr. sneaked out of the home, took the SUV, then crashed into three parked vehicles could answer some key questions, Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana said.

He said he plans to make the request in a letter to Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson.

"It would be very important to ask the officer questions about what happened that night," said Fontana, who also wants to see police reports or other documents about the incident.

Unanswered questions include how the boy could have slipped out of the house and gotten to the vehicle, which was parked on the street about 100 feet from the home, without an officer seeing him.

Will Gipson give Fontana the name of the officer who was outside the home at the time the SUV was taken?

"The commissioner cannot respond to a request he hasn't seen yet," DeGeorge said.

Officers who watch over Brown's home file reports only if something happened on their shifts, DeGeorge explained, saying, "There was no report filed that there was anything out of the ordinary."

He added that the officer did not see anyone leave Brown's home early that morning. DeGeorge would not speculate on how the boy could have slipped out of the house and driven off in a vehicle parked several houses away without being detected.

Fontana said he had telephoned Gipson on Tuesday, seeking answers to questions raised by reporters and others. He described the conversation as heated at times.

Gipson later told The Buffalo News that he "takes umbrage" at speculation that the Police Department might have engaged in a coverup to try to protect the mayor. Some have openly questioned whether Brown might have known weeks earlier that his son, rather than a thief, had taken the Chevrolet Equinox, as first reported to the family's insurance company.

Police did not interview the mayor's son until five weeks after the accident. Gipson said a second videotape from a Canisius College surveillance camera had been discovered early this month and provided a key piece of information that prompted police to question the teenager.

Without getting into details, Gipson said the second tape gave investigators a "time frame" and that a cellular phone played a role. The commissioner would not say whether this meant the images on the tape showed the individual using a cell phone. But if that is the case, said Fontana, a review of cell phone records might provide some answers.

So far, Fontana is the only one of nine Council members who has publicly urged Gipson to supply the Council with information about how police handled the investigation. But at least three other lawmakers have said privately that they have unanswered questions about the matter.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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