Use-of-force cases strain bond between law enforcement

LISTEN: Erie County DA John Flynn discusses difficulties in prosecuting cases involving police officers

Mike Baggerman
May 28, 2020 - 3:00 am

Brendan Keany

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is no stranger to dealing with controversial cases involving police officers and their use of force against suspects.

Arguably the most high-profile of his cases was the 2017 assault of Nicholas Belsito at the hands of former Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Achtyl at a Buffalo Bills tailgate. Achtyl was tried and ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor last year. He resigned from the police force a day before his conviction.

Flynn, at the request of Buffalo Police, is currently investigating a May 10 incident that shows an officer punching and choking a man on the city’s east side.

“The victim nor the victim’s friend, who was the one that took the video, has made a complaint to us,” Flynn told WBEN. “No one’s made an official complaint to me that you would normally see in my everyday line of work. If a guy goes to the store and gets robbed, the store owner calls and makes a complaint. There’s been no complaint by the victim here in this case or by the girl who took the video.”

Mayor Byron Brown said he was “concerned” by what he saw in the video that was spread online by prominent activists.

READ MORE: Mayor Brown concerned over controversial Buffalo Police video (See video here)

The district attorney did not comment on the controversial case in Minneapolis where a police officer’s use of force against George Floyd resulted in his death on Monday. An officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck and despite his pleas that he could not breathe, the officer did not relent for seven minutes. Floyd died at the hospital.

Protests broke out in Minneapolis on Tuesday and some protesters vandalized buildings and spray-painted police cars.

When looking into a police department, Flynn said it results in criticisms from the agency he is investigating, though he explained that he is obligated to do it as part of his job.

“Different police officers view things differently,” Flynn said. “Police officers come from all walks of life and they’re all different kinds of individuals. Just like in the military, I have a lot of experience in this due to my 28 years in the Navy.”

Twenty of those 28 years for the district attorney were as a JAG officer, where he prosecuted other members of the military. He said that he was criticized by some officers because he was looking into one of his own teammates.

“When I tell them I’m doing my job, there are still going to be some out there that are going to say ‘I don’t care if you’re doing your job, I don’t like you looking at me,’,” he said. “There’s going to be some element of that that any time that I prosecute a police officer, they’re not going to be happy with me. Or even looking into a police officer, they’re not going to be happy with me.”

Flynn was heavily criticized by the Erie County Sheriff and the police union for investigating Achtyl, though he said he was simply doing his job.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office will make the decision on whether or not to charge the four officers involved in Floyd’s death. In a statement, they said they were “shocked and saddened” by what appeared in the controversial video, but only said they are continuing to investigate and will not give any further comment until they announce a decision on prosecution.

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