After hitting the Bills fan in the face with a baton, forcing him to the ground and clicking on the handcuffs — for cursing at him over his shoulder — Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth P. Achtyl had a name for his new defendant: "Mr. Bloody Face."
That's the term Achtyl came up with as he and his partner processed the arrest of Nicholas H. Belsito.
One year ago, Belsito was a 25-year-old University at Buffalo student attending a tailgate party at New Era Field. His arrest on Dec. 3, 2017, left him with a broken nose and blood smeared across the right side of his face.
Soon after the arrest, Deputies Achtyl and James W. Flowers chuckled about it. Then they got Belsito examined and cleaned up, because the Erie County Holding Center will not take defendants in clear need of medical attention.
At a clinic inside the stadium, Belsito's condition drew stares.
"That's not face paint," Flowers quipped as he led Belsito to a cot.
These scenes are captured on a video from Flowers' body camera, part of Sheriff Timothy B. Howard's trial run in body cameras for his patrol unit.
Because of the recording:
• Federal authorities are now looking into whether the deputies exceeded their powers and should face charges, a source with direct knowledge of their probe told The News.
• An assistant district attorney concluded the video did not prove the charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and criminal mischief that deputies lodged. The DA's Office dropped the case against Belsito. District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. said his staff will determine whether the deputies can be charged with a misdemeanor for stating in court documents that Belsito fought with them when the video does not show that.
• Erie County lawmakers intend to ask Howard or his top officials on Thursday what came of the trial run with body cameras. When Howard announced, in the month before Election Day 2017, that select deputies would wear the cameras, he said he was concerned about the cost of storing all the data that would be created if every patrol deputy had one. He has said little publicly about cameras since then, and a top aide said the cost is still being assessed.
The Howard team said it will not comment publicly on the arrest because it will be the focus of a lawsuit against the county. His top officials also will not say if there has been any change in Achtyl's status as a result of the Belsito arrest. Chief of Administration John W. Greenan said Achtyl will not be working at this Sunday's Bills game.
The video was recorded two months into the body camera trial. It shows what happened when Belsito asked Achtyl where he was taking a friend who had just been arrested during the tailgate party.
The friend was sitting handcuffed in the back of a patrol vehicle, in custody for throwing a beer can that reportedly hit Achtyl's elbow. Belsito figured he would go retrieve the friend once he was released.
"I'm sorry," Belsito says as Achtyl lowers his window, "I'm just wondering where you guys are going, so I'm going to meet my friend there ..."
"Who's your friend?" Achtyl says.
"The kid in the back.''
"OK, well, you want to go to jail with him?" Achtyl asks, his voice rising.
"No, I ..."
"Then beat it."
In their brief exchange, Achtyl told Belsito three more times to "beat it." But he also let Belsito know the county jail was at 10 Delaware Ave.
A visibly frustrated Belsito finally walked off, then turned to curse. His lawyer said he used words to the effect of: "Do your (expletive) job. This is bull---."
Achtyl burst from his seat to write Belsito a ticket for disorderly conduct, even though New York's highest court has held that swearing at a police officer is not illegal.
Deputies Achtyl and Flowers justified the additional charges by saying in court documents that Belsito fought with them. But the Flowers video doesn't show that, nor does a cellphone video taken by another tailgate reveler and obtained by Belsito's lawyer, Aaron F. Glazer of Buffalo.
It shows Achtyl hitting Belsito with the baton and Belsito doing little to defend himself.
Inside the medical clinic, Belsito and Achtyl quarreled when a medic asked the patient what happened to him.
"I asked where my friend was going, and then this cop," Belsito said looking at Achtyl, "hit me in the face with a baton, and then threw me on the ground."
"He was being arrested for disorderly conduct, and he was fighting with the police, and he refused to be handcuffed."
"Disorderly conduct! I was fighting with the police! I got grabbed from the back," Belsito said, "and then I tensed up, and then he threw me on the ground."
"Shut up," Achtyl says.
"Just shut up."
They continued to quarrel, and Flowers offered his explanation of the injury: "He got hit in the nose during the course of his resisting arrest."
Legislators have questions
County Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, is among those who want to know what happened with the trial run in body cameras.
"They should have body cameras; that's my opinion. It's pretty straightforward," he said. "This was a clear over-reach by the sheriff's deputies, and the taxpayers are going to pay for that, I'm sure. The evidence in that video recording is very compelling."
"A lot of people, myself included, feel the Sheriff's Office suffers from a lack of oversight," he said. He mentioned Howard's decision, soon after he was re-elected in 2013, to take a part-time job with M&T Bank and the fact that when deposed about a high-profile jail death, he answered 68 questions with "I don't know."
Legislator April N.M. Baskin, D-Buffalo, invited Howard to meet with her Public Safety Committee at 11 a.m. Thursday on the fourth floor of Old County Hall. She wants to ask the sheriff about body cameras, what was learned during the trial and why he did not seek the money to put them into widespread use in 2019.
In her first term, Baskin has asked Howard to speak to her committee about other pressing matters: the state Commission of Correction's determination that the death of Holding Center inmate India Cummings should be ruled a homicide due to medical neglect, for example, and the commission's statement that the county lockups Howard oversees are among New York's worst-run jails.
Howard spoke to the committee about both topics, though an assistant county attorney prevented him from saying anything that might affect lawsuits underway against the county. Baskin said she expects a similar situation this time, but she figures Howard can talk about his office's policies, including the policies at play in the arrest of Belsito.
"What I saw," she said of the video, "was someone who was asking questions, and the deputy did not approve of the way those questions were being asked." The deputy's response, she said, seemed extreme.
Below is the video showing the arrest at New Era Field. Warning: It includes blood and language.