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Following disruption outside courtroom, constables may be coming to Hamburg

An altercation caught on video is prompting Town of Hamburg officials to think of bringing constables to town court to keep the peace.

The incident occurred about 10:25 a.m. March 15 in the lobby of Hamburg Town Hall outside the courtroom, where court officers were on duty.

The video shows several people sitting and standing, someone walking through the metal detector when a man walks up to another man he does not know, and threatens to fight him.

The court officer manning the metal detector steps over to try to get the man to back off and sit down, and tries to put his arm on his arm and points when the man pulls back and slaps the officer's hand.

"He's told to step back and sit down, he refuses to and then the fight takes over," Court Administrator Brigid Lavelle told Town Board members as she showed them the security video of the incident. "They take him down. That's his wife who's trying to calm him down."

Another court officer comes running, and grabs the man's arms from behind. The man struggles with the two court officers and eventually is taken to the floor, and two other court officers run from the courtroom into the lobby.

Lavelle said the man thought he was an undercover police officer. He was charged with second-degree harassment and disorderly conduct, both violations. But he could not be charged with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, because the court officers are not peace officers, she said.

"Because the fight ensued with our court officer, we couldn't charge him with resisting," Lavelle said. "We would like to have them classified as constables, so they could have him charged with resisting."

She said it's possible the constables also could be process servers for the town.

There are more than 250 constables serving in New York State, according to the New York Constables Association. One of them is Timothy Chase, who serves as constable in the Cattaraugus County towns of Farmersville, Machias, Franklinville and Lyndonville. He said he had worked as a bailiff in town court, and was asked to keep order outside the courtroom as well, but bailiffs have no authority outside the courtroom.

"I have the same authority as a state trooper or sheriff's deputy as far as arrest powers," he said. "The only restriction we have, we can't go serve an arrest warrant."

Three of Hamburg's four court officers are retired police officers, Lavelle said. There is mandated training for constables and regular certifications, said Chase, who is a district coordinator for the state Constables Association.

"There's not really any negatives," Chase said, adding, "You do need to be in good physical shape."


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