Lancaster Town Police are refusing to identify a security guard who died after breaking up a July 3 disturbance in a beer tent at a Village of Lancaster event but have identified the man accused of causing the disturbance.
Ryan A. Manuella, 24, of Cheektowaga, got into a tussle with a private security guard at 10:26 p.m. in the beer tent as he was being escorted out of it, Police Chief Gerald Gill said Friday. Another security guard helped break up the disturbance. That guard suffered a heart attack about 30 minutes later at the site, Gill said. He said that police believe the guard did not suffer injuries in the beer tent tussle that caused his medical emergency.
Manuella was charged with harassment, a violation, Gill said.
He said police will not identify the guard who died because the guard's family has requested the name not be released to the public.
On Thursday, police Capt. William J. Karn Jr. said he would not identify the guard because the death was unrelated to the disturbance in the beer tent and he did not consider it newsworthy. He also declined to identify the man whom Lancaster police charged with harassment.
"Someone died in a beer tent. We don't feel it's newsworthy and out of respect to the family, we are not identifying him," Karn said of the guard. "We have no reason to believe his heart attack was caused by an incident that occurred 30 minutes before."
Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government and an expert on the Freedom of Information Law, said Friday that he believes the law and related court rulings require the police to release records that identify the security guard as well as the man who was charged with harassment.
He said authorities may not release to the public an autopsy report that determines a person's cause of death, "but a portion of a law enforcement record that merely identifies a person who died is public in my opinion. There's nothing secret about the fact of a death," he said.
"Society historically has been able to find out who died in a community. It is not a secret," he said. "It was a public event. There were any number of people who saw the guard or had contact with him. How could disclosure (of the deceased's name) rise to the level of an unwarranted invasions of a person's privacy?"
Village events coordinator and Town Board member Dawn Gaczewski, who was in charge of the Lancaster Independence Days event, also refused to identify the security guard.
"The family involved deserves peace. This is a very tragic event," she said, explaining her refusal.
Gill said the dead security guard was not an off-duty police officer. No Lancaster police were working off-duty in the beer tent as private security guards, he said.
The Buffalo News has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the town police and the Village of Lancaster for records related to the incident.
This was the second consecutive day The News filed a FOI request with the town police.
Lancaster police on Wednesday issued a news release saying that officers had charged two people with crimes after a baby was injured by fireworks at a house. Police said in the release that they charged the man setting off the fireworks and the baby's mother but did not identify either person.
The Buffalo News filed a FOI request for records related to that incident.
Later Wednesday, Karn said police were in the process of filing charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and unlawful dealing with fireworks against the homeowner, whom he identified as Eugene Lapress.
Lancaster police released reports Friday on the fireworks incident arrest and the beer tent harassment arrest to The Buffalo News.
According to the report, Lancaster police charged Tasaya M. Betts, the mother of the 11-month-old girl injured by the fireworks, with endangering the welfare of a child. Betts, 22, is a Buffalo resident.
Betts' daughter suffered second-degree burns over 18 percent of her body, according to the report, and Betts suffered second-degree burns on her stomach.
Under the Freedom of Information Law, arrest records are public records, Freeman said.
"We don't have secret arrests in this country," he said.