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For Amherst woman, humiliating arrest by now-infamous Deputy Achtyl

Julie Marinaro sympathizes with Nicholas H. Belsito, the Bills fan who was roughed up when arrested outside New Era Field last December.

Like Belsito, Marinaro was charged with a crime after disrespecting Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth P. Achtyl.

He stopped her vehicle in Chestnut Ridge Park in 2014, then arrested her in front of her children and a nanny when the traffic stop dragged on and she tried to walk to a nearby restroom.

"He created a crisis when there was none," said Marinaro, who was 41 at the time.

In his report on the arrest, Achtyl said Marinaro refused several of his orders to return to the passenger seat – "for officer safety" – and when she insisted on walking to a restroom, he and a second deputy had to arrest her.

The story begins on Feb. 18, 2014. Marinaro, who lives in Amherst and owns a business in Eastern Hills Mall, went sledding with her husband, their three children, two foster children in the couple's care, and their nanny. When the outing was over, the group intended to retreat to a restaurant for dinner. Marinaro's husband, Peter, drove out first in his vehicle with two of the youngsters.

Into the family's second vehicle climbed Marinaro, the nanny and the three other children. The nanny drove, and Julie Marinaro sat in the front passenger seat.

When the vehicle exited the lot through the inbound lane, Deputy Achtyl pulled it over.

Though Marinaro was in the passenger's seat, Achtyl immediately blamed her for the traffic infraction, she said.

"He essentially started yelling at me," Marinaro said.

Weeks ago, Marinaro watched the widely publicized video of Achtyl arresting Belsito, leaving him with a bloody face and a broken nose. Marinaro said she thought the 25-year-old Bills fan had been "super polite" when he first approached Achtyl with a question outside New Era Field.

But after Achtyl yelled at her in 2014, Marinaro says she was not polite.

"I responded to his attitude with an attitude," she said. "I was like, 'just give us the ticket.' "

She said the deputy returned to his patrol vehicle with both of the women's driver's licenses. Marinaro figures 30 minutes ticked by, and they were still waiting for the ticket.

The children, ranging in age from 6 to 15, grew restless and hungry. Marinaro says she stepped out of the auto two or three times to open the trunk and retrieve some snacks.

Achtyl never objected, she said.

As more time passed, Marinaro needed a restroom. With the park's casino building about 200 feet away, she started walking there to use a toilet. That's when Achtyl and a deputy who had arrived to back him up burst from their cars to return her to her seat, she said. She protested, saying she really had to go.

Achtyl told her to stay with the car.

What if there is a warrant out for your arrest? he asked, according to Marinaro.

Marinaro responded: "You've had my driver's license in your possession for over an hour."

Achtyl, she said, then told her he didn't care if she urinated on herself. She was not to walk off.

But she didn't get back in the car. She insisted that she had to use a toilet. Soon, she was in handcuffs in front of the children.

"Now you are going downtown," Achtyl told her, according to Marinaro.

Marinaro could hold it no longer. Within seconds, her Lycra pants were soaked, and she felt humiliated, she said.

The charge was obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor lodged when someone "prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from performing an official function." Its penalties can be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

She spent the night in the Erie County Holding Center, which she called "a place designed to humiliate." For example, jail deputies took away her underwire bra – because of the wire it contains, she was told. Marinaro said she then sensed deputies leering at her breasts, as outlined through a close-fitting thermal top. She had to remain in her urine-streaked pants.

When a jail deputy falsely told her she could be there for days, Marinaro had a panic attack and fell to the floor, according to a notice of claim filed against the county but never pursued. The female deputy then called her a faker and threatened to kick her in the head if she didn't get up, the notice said, but eventually a nurse arrived to check on her.

Her husband, she said, had been working for hours to get her released and was given conflicting information from jail officials about her status. She was let go around 4 p.m. on Feb. 19, 2014, some 22 hours after the traffic stop.

When Marinaro read the court documents, she was surprised they cited her trips to the trunk as the main reason for the charge. The same went for a Sheriff's Office news release publicizing her arrest in 2014 : "For officer safety," it said, "she was advised numerous times to remain in the vehicle and to not go through the trunk while the deputy was waiting on information on her and the driver." There was no mention of her need to use a  bathroom during a traffic stop in which she wasn't the driver.

Achtyl's version of events, as told in his arrest report, resembles Marinaro's. For example, Achtyl wrote that Marinaro objected to being asked why the car had used the wrong lane, because she wasn't the driver. He described her as curtly telling him to go write the ticket. "Go do whatever you gotta do, go write your tickets," he quoted her as saying. She got out of the Cadillac more than once to retrieve items from the trunk, he wrote.

Unlike Marinaro's account, Achtyl said he and the second deputy, Neil Held, repeatedly told her to stay in the car.

Achtyl confirmed the final straw came when Marinaro insisted on using a bathroom.

"No, I am not sitting in my car," she said, according to his report. "I am going over to that building to go to the bathroom."

Wrote Achtyl: "The offender was told she would have to wait until dispatch returned any warrant or wanted information."

"I am not getting back in my car, so go ahead and arrest me," Marinaro said, according to Achtyl. She placed her hands behind her back, he said. Held then put her in handcuffs, according to Achtyl, and she stiffened when he put her into a patrol car. That's when Marinaro says she was urinating into her clothes.

Achtyl doesn't mention that detail at all.

His report is consistent with Marinaro's story in another way: The traffic stop took a while. The deputy indicates he pulled the car over at 6:15 p.m., and Marinaro was arrested 42 minutes later, at 6:57.

There was no body camera video of her arrest, like there was for Belsito's, on Dec. 3, 2017. In court documents Achtyl and a partner, Deputy James W. Flowers, wrote that Belsito fought with them when Achtyl tried to arrest him for swearing. But neither the body-camera video or an onlooker's cell-phone video show Belsito fighting.

Body-camera video turns against deputies after bloody arrest at Bills game

Prosecutors with the Erie County District Attorney's Office dropped the charges against Belsito after seeing the body-camera video. They are now determining whether the deputies should be charged with making false statements in court documents, according to District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr.

Belsito's arrest was recorded during a trial period in which select Erie County sheriff's deputies wore body cameras. After assessing the cost, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard decided that giving a body camera to every road deputy is not one of his priorities.

Marinaro, who believes her arrest was unjustified, says body cameras are a wise investment of taxpayer dollars. Everyone would behave better knowing they are being recorded, she said.

"It's not 'innocent until proven guilty,' " she added. "It's the opposite when it's your word against an officer's."

Because Marinaro's case was sealed, the Erie County Sheriff's Office would not comment on her arrest or answer questions about the procedures deputies are to follow when they pull over a vehicle.

A traffic stop is often stressful, for the driver and the police officer, who becomes responsible for the safety of those involved, said Roger Krieger, who worked for five Erie County sheriffs starting in 1967. After Krieger retired as the assistant chief of operations in 1988, he served as the police chief in Crystal River, Fla., and later as assistant superintendent of a multi-county detention center there.

"A stop like this, in the park for a traffic infraction, should have been over within 15 minutes, tops, excluding other concerns like outstanding warrants," said Krieger, whom The News asked to comment on Marinaro's story. "The woman’s irritation was understandable, since there does not appear to be any reason for the length of the stop, and she most certainly should have been allowed to use the bathroom.

"It appears the deputy created a situation for an unnecessary arrest," Krieger said.

Marinaro had never been arrested before. The ordeal shook her view of law enforcement. She feared being stopped again.

"I was so afraid of retaliation," she said. "There is no way you ever see anything the same way again. How could that not change you? You don't have rights like you think you do."

Marinaro hired a criminal defense lawyer to fight the charge. Then after talking with her husband, she decided to end the matter as simply as possible. The case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal in Orchard Park Town Court.

She said the deal was conditional on her apologizing to the deputy, though she was never told what to apologize for.

"I agreed to it," Marinaro said. "But there was no follow-up."

So, she said, she never did apologize to Deputy Achtyl.

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