A Town of Tonawanda police officer who admitted lying about his role in a 2019 crash returned to the town payroll last week and soon will receive roughly $220,000 in back pay, town officials said.
Officer Howard M. Scholl III, who was suspended without pay for nearly 2½ years, now is on paid leave as the town continues trying to fire him and he awaits prosecution on criminal charges over the incident.
The state Appellate Division's Fourth Department in May ruled the town owed Scholl back pay and benefits and must begin paying him again. The town opted not to appeal the ruling.
"I hate to do it, but the court said we've got to do it," Supervisor Joseph Emminger said Wednesday.
The appellate court also ruled the town could move forward with disciplinary proceedings against Scholl, with the Town Board meting out the punishment. Any final decision on discipline for Scholl could be months away because the Town of Tonawanda Police Club is seeking to appeal that ruling.
On Jan. 19, 2019, Scholl and his wife, Aimee, were driving home from a restaurant when their SUV slid through a stop sign and struck a vehicle on Englewood Avenue that had the right of way, authorities said.
Town police cited icy and snowy conditions and did not ticket anyone for the crash. The two people in the other vehicle, an Uber driver and her fare, were taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
The Scholls told police that Aimee Scholl was behind the wheel at the time of the crash, and the initial police report included their claim. Howard Scholl later told the same lie when the police chief questioned him.
He later changed his story and police produced a corrected accident report.
"I admitted to driving and apologized for lying and putting them in the situation," Scholl said in a signed Jan. 31, 2019, statement included in the court record, referring to the officers who responded to the incident.
Several officers were briefly suspended without pay for not properly investigating the crash. Scholl was placed on unpaid suspension several weeks after the crash and the town began trying to fire him.
Those proceedings have dragged on because of the pandemic-driven shutdown of courthouses in the state and because the town police union has challenged the Town Board's right to discipline Scholl. A State Supreme Court judge two years ago ruled in favor of the union and Scholl, but the town appealed to the Appellate Division.
Under the May court ruling, the town may conduct disciplinary proceedings under town law that allows the Town Board to appoint a hearing officer, instead of deferring to an arbitrator or following civil service law as outlined in the police union contract. The union's attorney, Paul Weiss, is waiting to learn whether the state Court of Appeals will hear an appeal of this portion of the ruling.
The town, for its part, opted to abide by the Appellate Division decision on back pay and reinstatement instead of paying further legal costs in pursuing an appeal, Emminger said.
The town owed Scholl $214,000 as of mid-June, and the total has gone up since then, said Emminger, adding the town will make a payment to Scholl in the coming weeks.
Scholl was returned to the town payroll for the pay period beginning July 15, though he remains suspended, Police Capt. Joseph Milosich said. In his last full year as an officer, 2018, Scholl earned $96,656, according to payroll records from SeeThroughNY.
In June 2020, Howard Scholl was arraigned on a felony charge of falsifying business records and a misdemeanor count of insurance fraud, while Aimee Scholl was charged with a felony count of falsifying business records. Prosecutors at that time said Howard Scholl lied about who was behind the wheel to cover up the fact he was driving under the influence.
Howard Scholl reported having two drinks on the night in question. His criminal defense attorney, Barry Covert, said following the arraignment he saw no evidence his client was impaired by alcohol. The Scholls have pleaded not guilty. Howard Scholl wants to return to his job as a police officer, Covert said previously.
The criminal cases, also delayed by Covid-19, are proceeding in Erie County Court, and the Scholls are set to return for a pretrial hearing in September.