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Controversial DWI case ends with Orchard Park man convicted on lesser charge

One of the arresting officers had resigned and invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when an Orchard Park man’s felony DWI case went to trial last month.

The officer’s problems did not entirely offset the evidence from the arrest, Robert C. Church Jr. was found guilty of the lesser offense of driving while ability impaired, a traffic violation, rather than felony driving while intoxicated.

Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka also found Church, 54, guilty of resisting arrest for not staying with the officers when they stopped him in his driveway and of another traffic offense, not staying in his lane.

Amy Pfeffer, then an Orchard Park police officer, was one of the officers who stopped Church in May 2014. Pfeffer, an Iraq War veteran who had been with the department for two years, resigned in early May of this year after she allegedly signed her lieutenant’s name to a departmental report, and after questions arose about testimony she gave in another DWI case. Neither she nor the department would discuss the reasons for her resignation.

However, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III notified local defense lawyers of the resignation and Pfeffer’s possible credibility issues regarding previous arrests, including many for DWI.

In his letter, Sedita described the two questionable incidents. Pfeffer testified in one DWI case that the defendant’s vehicle did a 360-degree spin when leaving a parking lot, while video surveillance showed the car merely fishtailing. In another case, Sedita wrote, Pfeffer signed her lieutenant’s name without permission to a duplicate of a document filed with Orchard Park police.

In discussing his letter, Sedita called the matter serious. He said he believes that Pfeffer’s actions resulted from “overzealous or sloppy” conduct, not criminal intent.

The Church case was one of the first in which she was called to testify after her resignation.

Before the verdict, Church defense attorney James Quinn Auricchio, told the judge that “the credibility of Officer Pfeffer in this or any court is in question. Her testimony lacks credibility in any regard.”

He described her conduct at the scene of his client’s arrest as reactionary and confrontational and said that even the report in this case was not accurate. To illustrate, he pointed out that the road bends to the right at the spot where Church was arrested, and he was charged with failing to signal. The judge found Church not guilty on that charge.

Auricchio previously estimated he had represented more than 20 people who had been arrested by Pfeffer. “I felt like she was unreasonable, overly aggressive and she took liberty with the facts,” Auricchio said after her resignation

He also said that Pfeffer regularly testified about details that his clients swore were untrue.