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Niagara Fall Council OKs settlement in police battery case

NIAGARA FALLS – The City Council has approved a settlement of a longstanding lawsuit involving the actions of a member of the Niagara Falls Police Department.

Last week the Council unanimously agreed to settle and pay a claim of $115,000 to Charles Calabro, who had made claims of battery involving a decorated, longtime police officer, Capt. David LeGault. The lawsuit also claimed Calabro was denied his civil rights in the arrest on Jan. 8, 2008.

Calabro is a distant relative by marriage to Mayor Paul A. Dyster. Calabro’s brother is married to the sister of the mayor’s wife, Becky Dyster, but Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson dismissed any notion that would be a factor in a settlement.

“He is a distant shirt-tail relative of the mayor’s wife,” said Johnson.

“And the mayor, quite frankly is not kept up to date on the status of this investigation. He is involved only where there is a high-profile case that opens the city to great exposure and then I would keep him updated on a regular basis. ”

Calabro was not involved in the call to which police responded, a reported shooting, but instead was on the street accused of yelling at LeGault as police tried to conduct an investigation. Calabro was charged with obstruction of governmental administration for interfering with the police investigation. LeGault directed him to cease and desist, but he refused and LeGault was forced to physically remove him from the scene, said Johnson.

The suit against the city and LeGault was filed in 2009, more than a year after the reported incident, and claimed that Calabro had called to report a crime on his street and LeGault struck him in the head, face and neck without any provocation. Calabro’s suit also claimed he became sore, lame and disabled and continued to suffer physical and mental pain.

Johnson said that Calabro was found guilty of obstruction of governmental administration following a bench trial in City Court.

The settlement will end the allegations of force and civil rights violations.

Johnson said the recommended settlement is a business decision, not an admission of any guilt.

He said the city agreed to settle rather than incur the potential costs of a trial involving witnesses as well as the potential exposure of greater loss to the city.

The Council also unanimously approved a recommendation to spend $180,500 in casino funds to purchase five new police vehicles – three SUV-type vehicles and two vans. The costs include retrofitting and customizing the new vehicles. The new vehicles will replace high-mileage vehicles.

City Controller Maria Brown recommended using casino funds to pay cash for the vehicles, noting it is better to pay cash since the vehicles quickly lose value due to their heavy daily use.

Dyster and Brown agreed that casino funds are declining and the city has to prioritize expenditures. Dyster said they are trying to go slow with capital expenditure and equipment purchases.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com