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Embattled Town of Tonawanda police chief stepping down

Town of Tonawanda Police Chief Jerome C. Uschold III has informed the town that he intends to retire from his post.

Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger confirmed the development at Monday evening's Town Board meeting.

Earlier Monday, Uschold called an unscheduled meeting with his top administrators and announced his decision then, a source familiar with the meeting told The Buffalo News.

Uschold declined to comment through Capt. Daniel Murphy, the department's spokesman.

Emminger confirmed that he met with the chief Monday morning to discuss a personnel matter, but he declined to say what the meeting was about.

Uschold's meeting with his leadership team followed his session with the supervisor, the source said.

Uschold's status was not raised directly by the Town Board at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday – though Kurt Pfeiffer, a 23-year member of the Town of Tonawanda Police Department, raised the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"Before you answer saying it's a personnel matter, I understand that, but you have the news here, you have a lot of citizens here, taxpayers. The current chief is going to leave his position with an $85,000 or $86,000 pension, on the low end, and fully paid health care... but local governments need to be transparent," Pfeiffer said.

In response, Emminger would only say that Uschold notified the Town Board on Monday of his intention to retire.

After the meeting, Emminger clarified to The News that Uschold that afternoon had informed the board that he would be submitting his retirement papers and that it would likely take about two weeks for that to happen.

"The acting chief will be assistant chief, Jim Stauffiger. So, I'm guessing, over the next five or six weeks, we'll be conducting interviews for the new chief and, possibly, a new assistant chief," Emminger said.

"We want the best candidate, whether it's inside the department now or outside," he added.

Emminger said there was no specific timeline for when a permanent replacement for Uschold would be selected.

The supervisor declined to discuss why Uschold chose now to retire or whether or not the Town Board had given him an ultimatum.

"We don't discuss personnel matters," Emminger said.

The Town Board took no action on Uschold's planned retirement Monday.

"Once the retirement papers become official, the Town Board will note that it is duly received and filed," Emminger said.

Uschold, who took over as chief in 2015, has come under fire in recent months for issues within the department.

The Town Board in June canceled a 2% raise Uschold was due to receive in the wake of the arrests of three members of the town's Police Department since December.

"Obviously, the Town Board is not totally satisfied with the job performance over the past six months of the chief. That's why we took the action," Emminger said at the time.

Uschold told The News that he has done his best to address and move forward from the scandals that brought notoriety to his department of 100 officers and 18 paramedics.

"They're going to put a negative cloud over the department. And the Town Board has every right to be disappointed in the department – and me as the chief of police," Uschold said in June.

Lt. Corey Flatau, 37, was arrested Dec. 27 shortly after the car he was driving veered across a highway in Wheatfield and struck a mailbox, according to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. Flatau was charged with DWI after he fell onto the hood of his car during a sobriety test. He was suspended without pay for 30 days.

That was the start of a trying period for Uschold and the department.

Officer Howard M. Scholl III, a member of the SWAT team, was charged with falsifying business records and insurance fraud stemming from a Jan. 19 motor vehicle crash.

Scholl falsely claimed that his wife, Aimee, was driving in an initial accident report before filing an amended report 2½ weeks later admitting he was driving. The town has moved to fire Scholl, who is fighting to keep his job.

Uschold in February suspended the town's SWAT team, saying it was below full strength.

Then, in late March, the town fired two paramedics suspected of taking medication from the drug deposit container at Police Headquarters, where they are based. The terminations of Jon Cinelli and Jeremy Pecoraro followed a hearing conducted by Uschold. Pecoraro and Cinelli both face criminal charges.

"There has been a lot going on. In December and January, and again in March, some negative things happened in the department," Uschold said earlier. "And as the chief, I am ultimately responsible for all that. So I get it."

He said he's worked hard to keep up morale in the department he's served for 35 years and that he wasn't spending his time worried the Town Board would try to fire him.

"I feel I've done a lot," Uschold said then. "I have more things that I want to do. If it's not to be, though, it's not to be."

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