Buffalo police brass are taking disciplinary action against a homicide detective who talked with The Buffalo News in April about previous crimes committed by a teenager accused of brutally assaulting a Williamsville South High School classmate.
Detective Mark J. Lauber was among several police officers and firefighters -- among them Buffalo Fire Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo -- who talked with The News about Curtis Byers' involvement with an August 2007 armed robbery in Buffalo, as well as a June 2007 arson that almost cost a Buffalo firefighter his life.
"Everyone was completely shocked" to learn Byers was accused in the Williamsville incident, Lauber said at the time. "Everyone I talked to assumed he had been incarcerated."
By talking with a reporter, department administrators charged Wednesday, Lauber disobeyed Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson's March 6, 2007, order that no member of the force below the rank of deputy commissioner talk with the media.
In addition, talking with the media about Byers' previous crimes in Buffalo endangered Byers' chances of getting a fair trial in the high school attack in which his victim required reconstructive surgery to his face.
"Detective Lauber related information to the media that would jeopardize a defendant's right to a fair trial," according to the departmental charges.
Police officials could not be reached to explain what action might be taken against Lauber. Frequently in such cases, after charges are filed, a hearing is held, and if the officer if found guilty, the discipline could be anything from a reprimand to a suspension.
Robert P. Meegan Jr., president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the charges against Lauber are unjustified. The detective has a constitutional right as a citizen and police officer to speak to the media, particularly when the Amherst case did not involve city police, Meegan said.
"It would appear that the media are not entitled to any information on any suspect until the individual is convicted in court," Meegan said. "This case occurred in the Town of Amherst and had nothing to do with Buffalo.
"Nowhere in the Constitution does it state an officer shall waive his constitutional rights to speak out as a private citizen or police officer.
The PBA president also questioned the timing of the charges against Lauber, a day after the mayoral primary.
"I think everyone can draw their own conclusion [on why] the charges were served on the morning after the primary, even though they were typed up Sept. 3," Meegan said, pointing to the original date on the documents.
The PBA supported Mayor Byron W. Brown's primary opponent, South Council Member Michael P. Kearns.
Michael J. DeGeorge, the Police Department spokesman, said he was not familiar with the charges against Lauber and so could not comment.
Peter K. Cutler, Brown's spokesman, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Byers is currently facing felony assault charges related to the March 24 attack on Michael Lang in the Williamsville South cafeteria. Byers has pleaded not guilty. The case is to be back in State Supreme Court next week.
The two cases about which Lauber, Lombardo and others commented to The News were Buffalo cases that had already gone through the courts.
Byers, then 15, was involved in an arson on Wende Street in 2007. During the fire, a brick chimney collapsed on Firefighters Mark P. Reed, shattering more than 30 bones in his body. Byers was sentenced to community service because of his age, officials said.
Two months later, after he turned 16, Byers was involved in an armed robbery in which he was accused of shooting the victim in the arm while trying to steal a gold necklace. He was sentenced to probation in that case.
After the Williamsville assault, Lombardo told The News he feared that if Byers were allowed to remain free, he would continue to hurt people.
"Let's hope that he doesn't cause more people to be seriously injured or, God forbid, killed," the commissioner said in an article published April 21.
On April 22, Lauber's comments appeared in an article in The News.
The next month, Byers was in court and pleaded guilty to several probation violations, which could send him to prison for up to four years. More than a dozen Buffalo firefighters -- including Reed and his wife, Nancy -- attended the court session when Byers admitted to State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller that he violated his court-imposed curfew and was frequenting with known criminals late on April 15.
e-mail: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org