A YouTube video has emerged of Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard appearing to direct deputies removing demonstrators from the Donald Trump rally at the First Niagara Center Monday night.
The video raises a couple questions. Was Howard acting as one of Trump’s 14 campaign co-chairs across New York State?
Or was Howard, in sheriff’s uniform, acting as the county’s top cop on security duty?
“He was acting in his capacity as sheriff yesterday in regards to law and order, as in the security of the facility and of the people there,” said Scott Zylka, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
Earlier this month, Trump’s campaign announced Howard was one of several people with Western New York connections named to its New York leadership team. Others included county GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy, Assemblyman David DiPietro, along with Rep. Tom Reed of Corning and former Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards.
Howard’s role Monday night was supervisory as part of the security detail inside the arena, Zylka said, noting that Howard believed it was important for him to be there, as he is at all big events where the sheriff’s department is involved.
All local police agencies providing security at Monday’s event worked under the direction of the Secret Service, and under rules that the agency and the Trump campaign established for the private event at the arena, Zylka said.
Howard works in a visible supervisory role at Buffalo Bills home games providing security outside Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. The sheriff regularly works in a mounted patrol, walks around and sets up at various gates and posts, Zylka said.
The sheriff’s office “purposely stayed away” from having Howard address the rally, Zylka added.
The sheriff also declined taking a photo backstage with Trump, Zylka said.
The 1-minute, 53-second video, posted to YouTube by WYRK-FM, shows Howard amid sheriff’s deputies and plainclothes security as a group of protesters, who initially had locked arms, were taken from the floor one by one.
The disruption was among several that occurred in a variety of spots around the arena, though most happened on the floor. This one just happened to occur near where Howard was positioned, Zylka said.
“He didn’t go out looking for trouble,” he said.
Zylka said he saw no potential conflict of interest in Howard’s dual roles.
“He’s a sworn officer, elected sheriff. He was there in a law enforcement capacity,” Zylka said.
The sheriff’s office assisted with security inside First Niagara Center, while a number of other agencies had officers outside the arena. Those agencies included Buffalo police, State Police, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police, as well as Amherst and Tonawanda police.