A seemingly disproportionate number of Niagara County Sheriff's Department deputies who supported Deputy Brian Grear's bid to unseat Sheriff Tom Beilein in 2005 have found themselves fired, demoted or assigned to less desirable duty in the wake of Beilein's Election Day victory.
And the Sheriff's Department is currently facing millions of dollars in litigation as a result of what many say is a departmental purge motivated solely by revenge.
In the meantime, Beilein has turned a blind eye to alleged malfeasance and criminal activity on the part of deputies and other departmental personnel who supported his re-election effort, and has paid awards for wrongful death, assault, sexual assault, use of excessive force, false arrest and numerous "accidents" that have befallen suspects while in their custody.
An internal report, never made public and obtained exclusively by the Reporter, shows that between 1994 and 2004 the department shelled out approximately $1.1 million on judgments and settlements to resolve these cases. And the report noted many more were still outstanding.
These figures are not presented in Beilein's lavish annual reports, but a million here and a million there and pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money.
Additionally, the awards covered in the internal report don't include those sought and received by sheriff's department employees -- deputies and jail guards -- who have gone to arbitration or sued in court on grounds of harassment, discrimination and other workplace issues.
Last August the Niagara County Legislature voted to award former jail guard John Hamdy $100,000 in a discrimination suit he brought after he was fired, and at least a half-dozen other such cases are currently pending.
Former deputy John Taddeo, who was terminated in June 2006 after his work on Brian Grear's campaign to unseat Beilein became a matter of public record, has brought some of the most egregious charges. Taddeo had five months and two weeks to go before his retirement and had accumulated four months and two weeks in unused sick time and leave at the time of his dismissal.
His attorney, Andrew Fleming of Batavia, said that his client was denied anything even vaguely resembling due process during the runup to his dismissal, but added that Taddeo was smart enough to realize what was happening and carefully document everything that occurred during the rigged process.
"This was strictly personal," Taddeo told the Reporter. "They wanted to hurt me and they did. But they're not going to get away with it."
Taddeo's story is typical of those told by the others in the department, one of a drawn-out pattern of harassment under the guise of an "investigation." Personal problems stemming from helping care for his terminally ill mother and ailing father, along with providing for the needs of two handicapped stepchildren, resulted in a bout with depression that led to what might have become a drinking problem.
Following an incident in which he blacked out, Taddeo contacted the department's employee assistance program, which directed him to the Bry-lin Outpatient Clinic in Amherst, where he enrolled in a in a five-month counseling program. Immediately he was set upon by members of the department's drug task force, who descended on the Angelo A. DelSignore Civic Building in Niagara Falls where he was on guard duty for the State Supreme Court.
In the months that followed he was subjected to numerous drug tests and obtained an open prescription from his family doctor that allowed him to have independent testing done immediately in the wake of the sheriff's department tests. Taddeo has documents showing the results of independent tests from Quest Diagnostics in Lewiston and Riverfront Medical Services in Cheektowaga. These independent tests all came back negative, despite the fact they were administered an hour or two after the departmental tests.
"They broke every one of their own protocols with those tests," Taddeo said. "They weren't numbered, I didn't sign the samples, they could have had horse (urine) in those bottles for all anyone knew."
Fleming filed suit on Taddeo's behalf against the county and the sheriff's department in federal court, and has filed notices of claim against the Niagara Falls City Police and the Niagara Gazette, after a city policeman spoon-fed former television talking head Rick Pfeiffer of the Gazette an internal memo concerning Taddeo. Pfeiffer published the blind item without a byline or any attribution on Oct. 21, 2007.
"The Niagara Falls Police Department has been advised to be on the lookout for a former Niagara County sheriff's deputy who was spotted in the 400 block of 19th Street," the front-page item read. "Police received a tip that (Taddeo) has been seen with a handgun and also possibly shaking down drug dealers for their money and narcotics." Taddeo is licensed to carry a pistol, and the sheriff's department has made no effort to revoke that license, records show. He has never been convicted of any crime and, until he decided to work with the Grear campaign, had been the subject of only one complaint over his nearly 20 years as a peace officer.
The officer safety notice said, "If found use caution. No warrants at this time but if found in possession of either a gun or a badge he should be arrested." Then the article gave a physical description of Taddeo and his vehicle.
"It made it sound like I was in hiding," Taddeo said. "I was living at home and going to work, just like I'd been doing every day for years. If Rick Pfeiffer wanted to know where I was he could have called the house."
Fleming contacted the Gazette and demanded a retraction and an apology on behalf of his client. This is standard procedure in cases of libel and slander, giving the news organization a chance show that the publication of incorrect information was an honest mistake, with no malice intended.
Instead Pfeiffer and the Gazette responded with a glowing profile of the source of that memo, Niagara Falls Police Officer Karl Brusino. Taddeo grew up with Brusino, and the two have had a contentious relationship for more than 20 years.
A photo accompanying the article depicted Brusino from the neck down, the better to protect him in his role of "field intelligence officer" for the NFPD.
"They should have just used his mugshot," Taddeo said. "I've never been arrested myself, but Karl Brusino certainly has. You should check it out."
A quick check showed that Brusino was suspended from duty in February 1997 following allegations of sexual abuse and sodomy lodged by two women. The case was remanded to the grand jury, records show, although its ultimate disposition -- and whether or not Brusino ever had a mugshot taken -- could not be determined at press time.
A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19 at Niagara Falls City Hall with the city's acting Corporation Counsel Tom O'Donnell to allow Fleming to outline his case against Brusino and the NFPD.
If the charges leveled by Taddeo prove to be true, agents of three of the region's most important institutions -- the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, the Niagara Falls City Police and the Niagara Gazette -- have colluded to strip him of his livelihood and destroy his good name and reputation in the community.
Fleming said he is convinced that his client has been wronged.
"It's always tough to predict what a jury's going to do, but I'm confident that the evidence shows clearly what happened here," the attorney said. "Everybody's on notice, and we're ready to go all the way with this."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Jan. 15 2008|