I can’t comment on the legal issues involving the decision to seal Tim Howard’s deposition except to say that court orders to seal documents must be respected.
What I can also say is that it is deeply disappointing that once again Tim Howard is able to keep critical information from public view. This is part of a long, disturbing pattern in the sheriff’s office where all kinds of information – about jail management, training programs for deputies, surveillance programs, the budget and more – is hidden from public scrutiny. I will change that it.
It is also clear that, whatever the outcome of the Richard Metcalf lawsuit, it has been firmly established that jail personnel are not properly trained in even the basic requirements for handling inmates. I will change that too.
As sheriff I will immediately institute a comprehensive review of the training provided to deputies and adopt best practices used at well-run jails across the country.
The nightmare of Tim Howard’s twelve-year mismanagement of Erie County’s jails is about to end.
Buffalo, NY October 19, 2017— Members of Erie County’s Democratic Delegation to the New York State Senate and Assembly, including Senator Tim Kennedy, Assembly members Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Sean Ryan, and Monica Wallace, today endorsed Bernie Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff.
Standing with Tolbert at the endorsement announcement, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes spoke further on Tolbert’s qualifications and the need for state investigations of the current sheriff’s administration.
“There is no doubt that based on his experience with the FBI and his background in international security management, Bernie Tolbert will remove the stain of Sheriff Howard’s failed leadership from our community, and restore pride and professionalism to the sheriff’s office,” said Peoples-Stokes.
Senator Kennedy spoke of Tolbert’s professional experience in offering his endorsement.
“Bernie Tolbert’s years of experience running the FBI Office in Buffalo and private sector security background make him unquestionably qualified to be our next Erie County Sheriff,” said Senator Tim Kennedy. “Bernie’s platform to reform the Holding Center, fight the opioid epidemic, and make our streets safer is exactly what Western New Yorkers are seeking in the next sheriff.”
Assemblyman Sean Ryan stated, “I am proud to endorse Bernie Tolbert to be our next Erie County Sheriff. It will be refreshing to have a sheriff who will enforce all our laws, and restore professionalism to the sheriff’s office. Bernie knows that keeping our community safe means tackling the opioid epidemic head-on. Bernie is going to lead on this critical issue, and I am thankful he plans to make this a central focus as our next Erie County Sheriff.”
Assemblywoman Monica Wallace added, “Bernie Tolbert’s law enforcement experience as the head of the Buffalo FBI office will serve as a tremendous asset to the residents of Erie County as sheriff. His passion for justice and service to our community are traits all voters should look for in an elected official, and that is exactly what we will have with Bernie Tolbert. I enthusiastically support and endorse Bernie Tolbert in the race for Erie County sheriff.”
Acknowledging the NYS Democratic legislator’s endorsements, Tolbert spoke of the need for Erie County to identify the destructive mismanagement of Sheriff Howard’s administration and ways to prevent such damaging management in the future.
“I am honored to have the support of our Democratic state delegation of outstanding leaders and public representatives. When elected sheriff, I will look to partner with them in creating a safer county for all of our citizens, and engage them in reaching out to the State Attorney General and the State Commission on Correction to request state hearings into the condition of the jails and hold those hearing here in Erie County where our community can participate directly. After twelve years of Sheriff Howard’s deadly mismanagement and abuse, our community needs healing of the kind that can only happen through community participation in determining exactly what went wrong under Sheriff Howard’s administration—how and why it all happened— and, most importantly, how to make sure it never happens again.”
About Bernie Tolbert: Bernie Tolbert is the former Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo office overseeing the Western New York region. He has more than 30 years of professional experience at the highest levels of law enforcement and corporate security. Born and raised in Buffalo, Mr. Tolbert holds a master degree in social work from the SUNY Buffalo and worked in education and social work in Erie County before launching a career with the FBI.
Mr. Tolbert’s campaign is focused on the following:
Twenty-two inmates who have died in Erie County jails during Sheriff Tim Howard’s tenure, the most recent occurring in July of this year.
Testimony from deputies in the Richard Metcalf homicide case that have made clear that sheriff’s office personnel are not properly trained in required restraining techniques and the need for Crisis Intervention Programs (CIP), the standard across the country for training law enforcement officers in how to deal with mentally disturbed persons, which apparently are not employed in the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
Admonishments issued by the State Office of Correction against Sheriff Howard for covering up suicide attempts to avoid reporting them to Albany and the sheriff’s publicly stated policy of not reporting all suicide attempts to the OOC.
Numerous lawsuits filed against the sheriff and analysis of the litigation fees and associated costs arising from those lawsuits showing a known total of $2.5 million in extra, unbudgeted costs to taxpayers and a conservative estimate of $4 million overall once additional and still undisclosed cases.
Mr. Tolbert’s campaign platform features four primary agenda items:
Clean up the county jails and restore pride and professionalism to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
Beat the opioid and heroin addiction epidemic ravaging Erie County.
Collaboratively work to turn back the tide of rising street crime.
Erie County, October 17, 2017—-The Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff Campaign today released a video questioning Sheriff Tim Howard’s refusal to participate in a series of candidate forums and debates. According to campaign spokesperson, Christina Abt, the end result of Howard’s refusal is a disservice to the voters of Erie County.
“To date Sheriff Howard has refused to participate in League of Women Voters candidate forums in East Aurora and Hamburg, with another candidate forum in Amherst unsure of his attendance,” Abt stated. “Additionally, the well-respected St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute Debate, scheduled to feature Bernie Tolbert and Sheriff Howard, hangs in the balance. Not only is the sheriff’s disregard for these long-standing election forums a slap in the face to the organizers, his decision to not openly and transparently debate the issues surrounding the 22 deaths in the holding center, 700 opioid deaths in Erie County over the last two years and $2.5 million in county lawsuit settlements with a projected $1.5 million yet to come, is a clear indication of his disrespect for the voters who have elected him and for whom he works.”
The Tolbert video is a tongue and cheek review of the sheriff’s absence from the various candidate forums and debates with suggestions of where he might be found, including a part-time security job the sheriff once held, where he wore his sheriff’s uniform in the middle of a county workday and riding a tractor out in the fields.
The video can be viewed on Bernie Tolbert for Erie County Sheriff’s Facebook page Sheriff Coward Video
Erie County, NY October 11, 2017— Candidate for Erie County Sheriff, Bernie Tolbert, and Candidate for Erie County Comptroller, Vanessa Glushefski, announced a joint plan to audit the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for the extensive litigation and associated costs to taxpayers of defending Howard’s 12-year tenure in court, and for questionable overtime practices that have contributed to wrongful death and other lawsuits involving the county jails.
“We know that 22 people have died in the county jails under Tim Howard’s leadership. That is the human cost that our county has paid for 12 years of Tim Howard being in charge,” Tolbert stated. “What we don’t fully know is the dollar cost to the taxpayers and residents of Erie County. The best estimates of known lawsuits against the sheriff suggest that the county has spent at least $2.5 million to defend Howard’s mismanagement. That doesn’t account for numerous other lawsuits that have been filed but whose details have not been disclosed. And it doesn’t account for the major wrongful death lawsuits now underway in the Richard Metcalf and India Cummings deaths. It is reasonable to believe that the overall legal-related costs to Erie County may be as much as $4 million. We need to find out for sure. That’s why I am standing here with Vanessa today, to let the taxpayers of Erie County know that when we are elected and take office in January I will fully support her audit of the Sheriff’s Office and the jails as a top priority.”
Glushefski stated, “When 22 people –mothers, fathers, sons, daughters –can die within our holding center, when the DOJ issues reports citing serious concerns, and when Erie County residents feel they can no longer trust the department charged with making our community safer, there is a real problem. Holding Center detainees are innocent until proven guilty. These individuals died largely preventative deaths while awaiting their trials. This is inexcusable. We have a tool at our disposal, a system of checks and balances, but the incumbent has refused to perform an audit on the department, choosing party over people. Beginning on November 8th, I will lay the groundwork to perform a comprehensive compliance and finance audit of the department. I will not stand silent as more families lose their loved ones. We will weed out corruption, waste, and mismanagement, to save the lives of our neighbors.”
Tolbert also addressed questionable overtime policies in the Sheriff’s Office. “Two things are evident from the testimony of sheriff’s deputies in the Richard Metcalf lawsuit,” said Tolbert: “jail personnel are poorly trained and they are being pushed beyond their capacity. This combination is a recipe for disaster. It has deadly consequences, erodes staff morale, and contributes to huge, unplanned financial burdens on taxpayers. As sheriff, I will completely review and overhaul the training and overtime policies in the department. We need to give the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office the tools they need to be the best they can be and to carry out their responsibilities with professionalism and pride.”
Members of the disbanded Community Corrections Advisory Board have sued the Sheriff demanding that he label suicides and suicide attempts in the jails as suicides, as required by the State Commission of Correction, not as “inmate disturbances” or other phony terms designed the hide the truth and duck government oversight of the jails.
It’s obvious why Tim Howard wants to continue this policy of deceit – after 22 deaths in the jails on his watch and countless lawsuits costing taxpayers untold millions – the sheriff is desperate to hide his 12-year record of mismanagement and needless death.
On top of that, Howard continues to defy other branches of government as if he is his own legislature, court, and executive branch of government. In this case, Howard is defying an order from the State Commission on Correction to properly label suicides and suicide attempts in the county jails. Similarly, he recently refused to disclose details of the controversial Stingray Surveillance Program to the county legislators who authorized it.
Howard’s defiant attitude is encouraged by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an extremist group founded by disgraced Arizona Sheriff and Howard ally Joe Arpaio. Constitutional sheriffs believe they have the right to enforce only the laws and government rulings they deem constitutional, regardless of the courts and the legislatures or Congress.
It is long past time for Tim Howard to get his house in order, tell the truth about what is going on in the county jails, and work cooperatively with other branches of government.
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.”
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.
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.”
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?
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.