Month: September 2017

Bernie Tolbert Receives Endorsement of Erie County Executive

Buffalo, NY September 29, 2017— Erie County Executive, Mark Poloncarz today offered his endorsement of former FBI Special Agent, Bernie Tolbert, as the Democratic candidate for Erie County Sheriff. In issuing his support, the county executive noted Tolbert’s extensive professional experience that highly qualifies him for the office.  (Full video of press conference at bottom of post.)

“Today I am proud to support Bernie Tolbert to be our next Sheriff of Erie County. Bernie will bring his years of experience as the FBI Special Agent in charge of the Buffalo Office to the Sheriff’s Office to offer a new vision for Erie County that embraces responsible government and offers all Erie County residents hope that professionalism will always prevail, especially when it comes to the management of our county jails and the Erie County Holding Center,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.”

“Bernie is someone you know will wear the uniform of Erie County Sheriff with integrity and respect. He has a detailed plan to focus on some of the most serious issues facing our law enforcement community today, including an aggressive approach to combating the ongoing heroin and opioid epidemic, something that my administration is very passionate about. Bernie Tolbert is the right man for the job and I ask you to support him in his quest to become the next Erie County Sheriff and join me on November 7 in helping elect him to office.”

Tolbert announced his candidacy in May and has since undertaken a strong campaign of employing his law enforcement and security experience to clean up the holding center, find new ways to combat and beat the opioid/heroin problem and curb the illegal gun and gun homicide problem. Tolbert’s message is clearly resonating with voters as recent polls suggest the sheriff’s race is a dead heat and even give Tolbert the edge over incumbent Tim Howard. Tolbert notes the Poloncarz endorsement will further strengthen his candidacy, while the county executive’s leadership skills provide exemplary value.

“I am grateful to the County Executive for his support and public endorsement for my candidacy as, undoubtedly, voters respond to his leadership,” Tolbert said. “Mark is also a role model for all who aspire to public service in the way he represents and responds to all people throughout the county. As sheriff, I will follow his lead in pledging to the voters of Erie County that I will be as a sheriff for everyone. I will restore pride and professionalism to the office, respect the uniform of the sheriff and never forget that my job is to serve the people.”

Bernie Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff – Erie County Executive…

Thank you Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz for your endorsement today of Bernie Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff.

Posted by Bernie Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff on Friday, September 29, 2017


Tolbert’s campaign platform for Erie County Sheriff is built on four main ideas:
1. Reverse the mismanagement of the county jails which has led to 22 deaths during the current sheriff’s administration and resulted in tens of millions of dollars in litigation and related fees to county taxpayers.
2. Aggressively address the heroin and opioid overdose problem plaguing the county by breaking up smuggling operations from Mexico and China and illegal pill mills in Erie County.
3. Stem the rising tide of gun murders by taking illegal guns off the streets and breaking up drug gangs.
4. Changing the toxic political climate by treating everyone with respect and dignity and never lending the sheriff’s uniform to extremist rallies or organizations.

Tolbert Statement on Sheriff’s Race Polling and NBA Lawsuit

Separate polls conducted by the Democratic and Republican parties both show the race to elect the next Erie County Sheriff in a dead heat between beleaguered incumbent Tim Howard and challenger Bernie Tolbert.

In acknowledging the polls, Democratic County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner stated Howard’s negative ad indicates a troubled campaign.

“It is highly unusual for an incumbent to launch an attack ad like this so early in the campaign, but then it is unusual to have an incumbent with such a deep record of failure,” Zellner stated. “There are still seven weeks  until election day, yet Tim Howard is already acting out of desperation by engaging in politics of false and misleading accusations and attacking Bernie’s well-respected reputation with false claims and innuendo. These tactics won’t fool the voters, however. Polls by both parties show the same thing. No matter the sponsor of the polls, the result is the same): the race is in a dead heat and breaking towards Bernie.”

In responding to the ad, Bernie Tolbert said, “Tim Howard’s ad is classic political dirty tricks. It is utterly false. It is part of a pattern of lies, disinformation, and misdirection that has characterized Tim Howard’s management of the sheriff’s office. He desperately wants to hide his appalling record: 22 unexplained deaths in the jails under his leadership; 700 overdose deaths in the county since 2015; a record-setting murder rate this year; and a toxic political environment made worse by Howard’s speeches to rallies of racists, bigots, and extremists.”

“Howard’s ridiculous attack ad,” continued Tolbert, “includes a number of untruths including that I was involved in a sexual harassment suit at  the NBA several years ago. Erie County residents and voters should know this is a lie pure and simple. I have never been the subject of such a charge. Tim Howard’s toxic politics of lies and hate have no place in our county.”


Click below to read Bernie Tolbert’s letter to supporters regarding his full explanation of the NBA Lawsuit:
Tolbert Letter on NBA Lawsuit

Tolbert Statement on Sheriff Howard’s Jail Management Accreditation Announcement

Accreditation of the Erie County Sheriff’s Jail Management Division from the New York State Sheriff’s Association, of which Tim Howard is a member and which is not a government oversight agency, is nice—but it is not enough.

Truthfully, it should have been pursued twelve years ago.

Further, it doesn’t address the concerns of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the pattern of unexplained deaths at the holding center, the most recent of which occurred in July.

It doesn’t address the New York State Commission of Correction’s concerns issued this summer about the sheriff disguising suicides as “inmate disturbances” or delaying emergency medical crews from attending to medical emergencies in the correctional facility.

It doesn’t answer the question raised by the just recently disclosed testimony of sheriff’s deputies in the Richard Metcalf homicide trial, “why are Erie County Sheriff’s Deputies not appropriately trained?”

Today’s announcement by Sheriff Howard is another of his growing list of efforts to draw our attention away from his appalling record over three terms and twelve years:

  • Twenty-two deaths in the jails from homicide and medical neglect, as well as suicide.
  • Seven hundred opioid deaths in Erie County since 2015.
  • A gun homicide rate on pace to set a new record in 2017.
  • Poor or non-existent training of his deputies, the hard-working men and women who manage our jails, watch our roads and guard our communities.
  • A toxic political environment fueled by speeches at rallies for racists, bigots, and extremists.

These are the issues Tim Howard must confront but is trying desperately to avoid.

Residents of Erie County should ask themselves if they feel any safer as a result of Tim Howard’s announcement?

More to the point, would they feel better as a result of his announcement if, God forbid, one of their family members were picked up tonight by sheriff’s deputies and taken to the holding center?

Tolbert Statement on Sheriff Howard’s Refusal to Enforce Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order

Shame on Sheriff Howard for making a phony political issue out of the Governor’s executive order on immigration, sowing needless fear and anxiety in Erie County’s immigrant community, and acting once again as if as he has greater authority than the Governor, the Attorney General, the Legislature or the Courts.

Support it or oppose it, the Governor’s executive order instructing state agencies not to ask about an individual’s immigration status does not apply to municipal governments. It has no bearing on the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

It is outrageous for Tim Howard to pretend that this is a matter that affects his responsibilities. I hope and pray that he does not use this phony issue as an excuse to begin intimidating residents of Erie County as they go about their daily business or to otherwise pursue extremist views on immigration.

We must work together to keep our community safe and prosperous. That means respecting the separation of powers among the branches of government and not going it alone or shooting from the hip. It means not engaging in the rhetoric of fear.

I will have more to say about the sheriff’s office and immigration policy in the coming days.

Tolbert Calls for Reinstatement of Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board

Buffalo, NY September 5, 2017—With community leaders by his side, Bernie Tolbert, Democratic candidate for Erie County Sheriff, today called for the county legislature to reinstate the Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board.

The board, composed of community leaders from mental health, legal, government, and prisoner advocacy organizations, was created by the legislature in 2010 following an investigation into the mismanagement of the Erie County Holding Center by the U.S. Justice Department. It was effectively suspended in early 2014 when it was downsized by the legislature and vacant seats were left unfilled.

According to Tolbert, the purpose of the board was to advise the sheriff and legislature on best practices and improvements in county jail management.

“In light of 22 inmate deaths, including not only suicides but deaths by beating, abuse and neglect, a confirmed homicide, an apparent additional homicide now being litigated, a lawsuit against the County by the U.S. Justice Department, and an investigation and reprimand by the New York State Commission of Correction for hiding information about inmate deaths – not to mention the enormous cost to taxpayers of litigating and settling private lawsuits  — Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has lost the confidence of the public to properly manage the jails,” Tolbert stated. “Having a fully functioning citizens advisory board will help provide constructive ideas for improving jail management and informing the public of efforts to make things better.”

“The residents of Erie County should know that this board is voluntary and costs the county nothing,” Tolbert continued.  “Neither does it represent another layer of government bureaucracy. The jails already have sufficient government oversight at the county, state and federal levels. Those agencies have found Sheriff Howard sorely lacking in his responsibilities. This board will provide advice as we fix the jails and be a conduit of information to a community that has been kept in the dark.”

Tolbert further stated, “It is critically important that the reinstated board comprise representatives from the community organizations and interests that made up the board when it was first empaneled in 2010. It does no good for it to be a board composed only of government officials. What is needed is community input.”

Nan Haynes, professor emerita, SUNY Buffalo School of Law and a member of the defunct corrections board said, “I am delighted that Bernie Tolbert has called for the reinstatement of the board, which brings together citizens with divergent views on policing and corrections to find ways to improve the inhumane and deadly conditions in our county jails. Bernie will listen to the entire community and offer the kind of transparency and accountability that is so badly needed in the sheriff’s Office.”

Rev. Eugene Pierce, former assistant superintendent Erie County Correctional Facility, and a member of the defunct corrections board said, “I applaud Bernie’s call for the reinstatement of the Community Corrections Advisory Board, which is an effective conduit between the community the jail administration, and provides timely suggestions for how the jails in our county can be improved. Moreover, it gives the community confidence its concerns will be addressed.”

Attorney Joel Kelemen, a member of the Buffalo Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said, “Our jail system, like our other democratic institutions, has to be accountable to the community. It must operate with the understanding that the people in jail will someday be released, and that the community benefits by lowering the recidivism rate. The Erie County Corrections Advisory Board, which is comprised of community leaders from many disciplines, should be viewed an essential part of administering the holding center, and the advice of the advisory board should be welcomed, not excluded.”

Ken Colon, Coordinator of the Buffalo Urban League’s Out of School Youth Program, said, “We are committed to collaborating with the next sheriff to find ways to improve conditions at the holding center. We welcome his commitment to exploring ways to provide individuals who lack a high school diploma the opportunity to pursue their degrees. We believe it is important to provide county jail inmates with resources and counsel for finding employment, housing, and health care resources. The advisory board can play a big role in that effort.”

Debora Hayes, Area Director for CWA District 1, said, “Every resident of our county deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but Sheriff Howard has demonstrated the opposite belief in his management of county jails. We are dismayed by Howard’s lack of accountability to the community he is supposed to serve. We are proud to support Bernie Tolbert because of our shared commitment to civilian oversight in addressing the problems with Erie County jails. Accountability and oversight of law enforcement are critical in this era of mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts people of color.”

Community leaders joining Tolbert in calling for reinstatement of the advisory board included Karima Amin (People are Prisoners Too), Lavonne Ansari (Community Health Board), Ken Colon (Buffalo Urban League), Bruce Covert (American Civil Liberties Union), Debra Hayes (Communications Workers of America), Nan Haynes, (SUNY Buffalo School of Law emerita), Joel Kelemen (National Lawyers Guild and WNY Law Center), Rev. Eugene Pierce (frm. Asst. Superintendent, EC Correctional Facility).
About the Erie Community Corrections Board (as stated on the Erie County Legislature’s website):  The purpose of the Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board is the discussion of corrections facilities programs and services to offer suggestions and advice for the improvement of such programs at the Erie County Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center. The Advisory Board may undertake functions and activities intended to provide advice and suggestions to:

  • Improve the programs and functions of the Jail Management Division and the County Correctional Facilities
  • Allow public comment on the activities associated with the Erie County Holding Center and Correctional Facility
  • Make formal recommendations to the Erie County Legislature, Erie County Executive and the Erie County Sheriff on the comprehensive plan for programs and services at the Correctional Facilities in Erie County, complete with a budgetary analysis and identification of possible sources of funding for initiatives that require additional funding not specified in the County’s budget.
  • Receive complaints regarding the Correctional Facilities from interested parties and refer such complaints to the proper official in the office of the Erie County Sheriff for investigation.