Dale Acker, the contractor who used to own the Wende Street property where a firefighter was critically injured in an arson, told a judge Thursday that confusing court documents got him into trouble before the city took over the property.
And after the court session, a lawyer representing Acker stressed that the city owned the property when Firefighter Mark Reed was critically injured June 10.
Jailed since two days after the blaze, Acker, 36, claimed Thursday that he failed to show up for Housing Court sentencing last January when he stilled owned the house due to "incorrect" court documents he had been given by court officials.
Acker, who was brought to court handcuffed, told Housing Court Judge Henry J. Nowak that he was never "running away" from his court penalties. He insisted he had been trying to put together the five-figure costs of demolishing the Wende house and a Best Street property he owned, telling the judge that if he had really been a scofflaw, he "would have run to Mexico."
He also told the judge he had been unable to contact lawyers to help him since he was jailed in the Erie County Holding Center.
At the request of Buffalo attorney Samuel P. Davis -- who was in Housing Court on other matters and agreed to help Acker -- the judge adjourned Acker's sentencings on both properties until next Thursday. The city is seeking a 300-day jail term and a $30,000 fine.
After the court session, Davis said he decided to intervene on behalf of Acker -- whose last known address is on Stanfield Road in Colden, according to court documents -- "because he's being brought on the carpet for things that happened long ago."
Davis said he doesn't want Acker, who has a diabetic wife and limited finances, to become a scapegoat for Reed's injuries. Davis cited court documents indicating the city took ownership of 120 Wende six months ago, well before the arson that left Reed critically injured and with an amputated leg.
According to court records, the Wende Street property was listed as needing emergency demolition six months ago, but the city never acted on that assessment, Davis stressed.
During the court proceeding, housing inspection official Brian Higgins told the judge the city wants the maximum jail time and fines for Acker, who purchased both the Best Street property and the Wende Street site in January 2003 and was cited for 15 housing code violations on the properties.
The judge refused to reduce the $10,000 bail he set for Acker a week ago, noting Acker is also the subject of continuing city and state tax assessment cases on both properties.
According to court documents, Acker pleaded guilty to housing violations on both properties over a year ago but kept changing his mind about whether he would try to hire a private demolition contractor or let the city demolish them and owe the city for the costs.