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Gipson denies knowing of Stokes matter at the time

Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson told the Common Council on Tuesday that he has no firsthand knowledge of what happened the day restaurateur Leonard Stokes was detained by officers in 2007 for possessing a stolen handicapped parking tag.

Gipson added that he has not launched an internal investigation into the matter because he doesn't want to "interfere" with an ongoing federal investigation.

After Tuesday's meeting of the Council's Police Oversight Committee, Gipson said he has not asked Mayor Byron W. Brown whether he met with Stokes on the day he was detained by officers.

"There's an ongoing investigation by another law enforcement agency," Gipson repeated, referring to an FBI probe.

Some Council members want to know whether the mayor played a role in preventing the arrest of Stokes. Some officers have maintained that Stokes was brought to the mayor's office shortly after he was questioned by police. The mayor has refused to comment, except to say he did nothing wrong.

The Council panel requested that Brown appear before lawmakers, but the mayor did not attend the meeting. Brown spokesman Peter K. Cutler said the mayor was on vacation.

When South Council Member Michael P. Kearns who lost the Democratic mayoral primary to Brown earlier this month -- asked Gipson whether the mayor prevented Stokes' arrest, Gipson replied: "I do not know that, because I don't know if the officer intended to arrest him."

But Gipson was quick to point out that 14 other people caught with the stolen handicapped parking tags were subsequently given the same treatment that Stokes received. All were ticketed and fined by the Parking Violations Bureau. At no time was Stokes arrested by police, Gipson emphasized.

But officers had intended to arrest an unrepentant Stokes and charge him with criminal possession of stolen property before the mayor become involved, according to legal sources who talked with The Buffalo News.

During an hourlong interrogation by Council members, Gipson repeatedly said he has no direct knowledge of what occurred the day Stokes was apprehended. The commissioner said that much of the information he knows about the case has come from media reports.

Gipson said Stokes provided "pivotal" information that helped police to crack the case, an assertion that some officers involved in the investigation have disputed. Sources told The News that officers suspected that information Stokes gave them about where he bought the stolen tag was false. They also said Stokes had a bad attitude, bragging about his City Hall connections while using his cell phone to call the mayor.

Last month, federal agents served subpoenas at City Hall, demanding reports, work plans, meeting correspondence, notes and other documents pertaining to One Sunset, a failed Delaware Avenue restaurant owned by Stokes. More recently, the FBI has been questioning officers who were involved in the probe of the stolen parking tags.

Gipson said he was unaware of any subpoenas his department has received pertaining to the federal investigation.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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