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Town of Tonawanda steps up efforts to fire police officer

The Town of Tonawanda has taken the next step in its efforts to fire a police officer accused of falsely claiming he wasn't the driver in a January motor-vehicle accident.

The Town Board on Monday voted to hire a hearing officer who will listen to arguments from the town and from Officer Howard Scholl III, who is trying to keep his job, and help decide whether the town has grounds to terminate him.

Scholl remains on unpaid leave, but he is not the only member of the department punished for their actions on the night of Jan. 19. The three responding officers, who have not been identified, were suspended without pay but have since returned to duty, Supervisor Joseph Emminger said.

The captain who was the supervising officer that night also faced discipline, though his status is unclear. Lt. Thomas Haynes, a police spokesman, declined comment except to say Scholl is the only officer currently on unpaid leave.

Scholl was leaving a party for members of the town's SWAT team held earlier on the night of Jan. 19 at Sinatra's Restaurant on Kenmore Avenue when his SUV rolled through a stop sign and struck a vehicle driving westbound on Englewood Avenue, at St. Johns Avenue, that had the right of way.

An accident report notes icy conditions may have been a factor in the crash. Both occupants of the other vehicle were taken to a hospital for treatment.

The first accident report filed shortly after the crash stated Scholl's wife, Aimee, was driving. A corrected accident report states Howard Scholl was driving.

The Town Board asked the District Attorney's Office to investigate the crash and its aftermath, and that review continues.

Police Chief Jerome C. Uschold III previously said an internal investigation revealed violations of departmental regulations and procedural errors did occur that night but he is confident the investigating officers didn't commit a crime.

[Related: Response to crash involving Town of Tonawanda officer raises questions]

Still, Uschold and the town last month moved to fire Scholl. He is challenging his termination and the town this week hired Paul G. Joyce, of the Colucci Gallaher law firm, as a hearing officer.

Joyce will hold a hearing on the disciplinary charges lodged against Scholl and, according to the Town Board resolution, in the case Scholl is found guilty forward his findings to the Town Board for review and action.

The town has appointed a hearing officer, and that was anticipated by the union," said Paul D. Weiss, the attorney for the town police union, who is representing Scholl with criminal attorney Barry N. Covert. "And we will be representing and defending Officer Scholl to the fullest."

Scholl's accident came several weeks after another SWAT team member, Lt. Corey Flatau, was charged with DWI following a crash in Niagara County. Flatau received 30 days unpaid leave and recently returned to the force, Emminger said.

Flatau on Tuesday in Wheatfield Town Court was placed on interim probation for one year, until his next court appearance in March 2020.

Following Scholl's accident, Uschold suspended the department's SWAT team.

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