Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Kenneth P. Achtyl’s temper apparently gets triggered when a member of the public doesn’t show him the respect he feels he is due. He is trouble armed with a gun.
Respect usually accrues to those who earn it. Just carrying a badge, handcuffs and a gun is not enough, especially when you abuse your power and position. The contempt with which Achtyl treated a Bills fan who asked about his under-arrest friend, and a suburban mom who tried to walk away from a traffic stop to go to the bathroom show that the demands of the job are too much for Achtyl. He needs to be gone. If he won’t turn in his badge then he should be fired.
Achtyl was on duty outside New Era Field during a Bills game on Dec. 3, 2017. Nicholas H. Belsito, a 25-year-old University at Buffalo student, was tailgating at the game and saw a friend of his arrested, reportedly for throwing a beer can that hit Achtyl in the elbow. Belsito approached Achtyl and asked where his friend was being taken. The deputy replied curtly that Belsito needed to “beat it.” The interaction was recorded on a body camera.
The video shows Belsito walking away from the deputy, then turning to curse, telling him to “do your (expletive) job.” That set off Achtyl, who is shown in the video putting Belsito in a bear hug, then putting him on the ground to handcuff him. In another video, taken by an onlooker, Achtyl is seen clubbing Belsito in the face with a baton, leaving him with a bloody face and a broken nose.
Achtyl and a colleague later laughed at Belsito’s condition, referring to him as “Mr. Bloody Face.”
Now we know it wasn’t a solitary instance of abuse of authority. Last week brought revelation of a February 2014 incident involving Achtyl. Julie Marinaro of Amherst was a passenger in a car driven by her nanny and with three children on board. They were leaving Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park and mistakenly drove out through the “in” lane. Achtyl pulled them over and blamed Marinaro for the infraction, although she was in the passenger seat. Marinaro responded to the deputy with a curt, “Just give us the ticket,” which was not to Achtyl’s liking. He took the driver’s licenses of the nanny and Marinaro and kept them waiting for more than 40 minutes.
During the wait, Marinaro says she got out of her car to get snacks for the kids from the trunk. Achtyl’s arrest report says Marinaro defied his order to not leave the car, but she said that never seemed to be an issue until she started walking toward a nearby building to use the bathroom.
Achtyl arrested Marinaro, in front of her children, and she urinated in her clothes after being denied use of the bathroom. Marinaro was brought downtown and spent the night in the Erie County Holding Center, until her release was negotiated the following day.
To recount: A mother and business owner, who was a passenger in a car in which the “crime” was using the wrong exit lane in a suburban county park, spent the night in jail after she wasn’t sufficiently deferential to Achtyl.
Most adults know that it’s never a good idea to speak rudely to police. But how many of us, in a moment of stress, haven’t let an unkind word or two escape our lips?
Also, officers patrolling at Bills games have to deal with far too many drunks and other knuckleheads, so it’s fair to acknowledge the stress of the officers’ jobs.
But that is why law officers undergo training: so they can anticipate stressful situations and follow a playbook for dealing with them – a lawful playbook. It’s a critical part of the job, one that Achtyl has shown he can’t handle .
It will interesting to see if other incidents involving the deputy come to light. The Belsito incident would not have made headlines were it not for the body camera worn by Achtyl during a trial program. Sheriff Timothy B. Howard has resisted full-time use of body cameras in his department. Achtyl’s conduct has made the case for them.
An assistant district attorney reviewed the Belsito video and concluded it did not prove the charges that deputies lodged. The DA’s Office dropped the case.
Marinaro fought the charge against her and the case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
As to Achtyl, he should be investigated for possible crimes. In the meantime, he, too, should be dismissed.