A suspended Town of Tonawanda police officer pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of falsifying business records and insurance fraud stemming from a January motor vehicle crash.
Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said Howard M. Scholl III, 36, falsely claimed his wife was at the wheel of a SUV that struck an Uber vehicle late on the night of Jan. 19.
In truth, Scholl was driving the SUV, Flynn said.
Scholl, who was a police officer and a member of his department's SWAT team at the time of the incident, was arraigned on the misdemeanor charges in Amherst Town Court. The case was moved to Amherst because both Tonawanda town justices recused themselves.
Scholl's wife, Aimee, 33, was also arraigned on a charge of falsifying business records.
Flynn said the car crash occurred on Englewood Avenue after a SWAT team party at Sinatra's, a popular restaurant on Kenmore Avenue that is not far from the accident scene.
The district attorney was critical of some town police officers who investigated the crash. He said they failed to interview the female Uber driver, who could have told them who was actually driving Scholl's SUV.
Flynn said officers also allowed Scholl to drive home "in a vehicle with airbags deployed."
Flynn said he has been told by town officials that multiple town police officers were briefly suspended for their actions on the night of the crash.
Although he pleaded not guilty to the two misdemeanor crimes, Scholl's attorney, Barry N. Covert, said Scholl admits that he initially gave the wrong information about who was driving the SUV.
"He did something that was wrong, and later admitted it and corrected it," Covert said. "He knows he made a mistake, he is remorseful and he's filed a grievance with the town because he really wants his job back. My client is a decorated former U.S. Marine. Serving his country as a Marine and serving the town as a police officer mean the world to him."
When asked by The Buffalo News if his client was drinking prior to the accident, Covert said: "I don't know, but all the witnesses who spoke to my office said there was no indication he was impaired by alcohol." He declined to say why his client gave false information.
The accident occurred around 11:50 p.m., after the Scholls left the SWAT team party. Police said their SUV rolled through a stop sign and struck the Uber vehicle. Police said the Uber had the right of way.
According to Flynn, Scholl initially told a paramedic and others at the scene that his wife was driving. The day after the crash, he falsely told his insurance company that Aimee Scholl had been driving.
Flynn said a police officer gave a field sobriety test to Aimee Scholl, but not to Howard Scholl. Flynn said the field test on Aimee Scholl indicated that she had some alcohol, but was not legally impaired.
Both occupants of the Uber vehicle were taken to a hospital for treatment.
The first accident report filed shortly after the crash stated Aimee Scholl was driving. A corrected accident report states Howard Scholl was driving.
Police Chief Jerome C. Uschold III previously said an internal investigation revealed violations of departmental regulations and procedural errors occurred that night but was confident the investigating officers didn't commit a crime.
Still, Uschold and the town in February moved to fire Scholl, and the chief briefly suspended the SWAT team's operations.
“From the very early stages of this investigation, our police department and the Town Board were very concerned about the behavior exhibited by Mr. Scholl on the night of the accident. Our opinion has not changed," Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger said Thursday. "The Town Board adopted a resolution to suspend without pay Mr. Scholl on Feb. 11 and we stand by that decision as being in the best interest of the residents of the town. Our intention is to terminate Mr. Scholl."