January 18, 2009 - 9:00 AM
We may have the makings of our own little "gate" involving Mayor Byron Brown's possible use of the Buffalo Police Department for political purposes.
Artvoice first broke the story, and has done a follow. There's been followup coverage by The News and commentary by the Buffalo Pundit. In addition, New WNY Politics has done a couple of stories, here and here, but in reading them, keep in mind the site is run by a former sidekick of Joe Illuzzi.
Here's how Artvoice reported the story:
At seven o’clock on the morning of November 7, Syaed Ali and his family were awakened by a team of Buffalo police officers bearing a search warrant.
The warrant, signed by Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah one week earlier, accused Ali of aggravated harassment and empowered police to search his home and seize any and all electronic equipment — computers, discs, cell phones, etc. — that might provide evidence of the charge. Police searched Ali’s home, carted away boxes of seized material, and took him downtown for questioning, without an arrest warrant, without reading him his rights, without allowing him to contact relatives or an attorney.
Two months later, Ali hasn’t been charged and he can’t get his possessions returned. The person that Ali says he was accused of harassing: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
All this supposedly revolves around some nasty e-mails that have circulated about the mayor earlier this year. The Artvoice story goes on to detail some scary stuff, if Ali's attorney is to be believed, and coverage from some of the other media outlets goes further.
For example, Ali told New WNY Politics:
"The officers told my brother that they had an arrest warrant for me charging me with computer fraud and aggravated harassment of the Mayor of Buffalo. Yet, when a family member and later I asked them why they were doing this, two different officers replied, 'Because you made the Mayor really mad!' "
This is potentially explosive stuff and we all need to avoid jumping to conclusions. That said, the words of the mayor's own people are noteworthy, as much for what they don't say as what they do.
Of course, there's the usual, "we don't talk about ongoing investigations," uttered by by Peter Cutler, the mayor's spokesman, and Mike DeGeorge, spokesman for the police.
Cutler, however, passed when given the opportunity by Artvoice to deny that a complaint from the mayor triggered the whole affair.
I found DeGeorge's words particularly interesting.
“It’s my understanding there was no formal complaint [made against Ali] from the mayor’s office."
Hmmm. No "formal" complaint, you say.
“Police routinely investigate matters involving the mayor. He’s the highest public official in the City of Buffalo, so there will be situations that come up."
So, Mike, what exactly is the "situation?"
"... to comment on specifics could certainly jeopardize not only the investigation, but security issues.”
Of course. Security issues. We should all stop asking questions.
A few other things have caught my eye.
Among them is the judge who signed the search warrant, City Court Judge Craig Hannah, who Brown appointed to the bench 11 days after taking office. The judge and the mayor go way back and Hannah has been a major campaign contributor.
Then there's the way the police handled the auto accident a few years ago involving the mayor's son. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
This looks like a matter that someone needs to get to the bottom of. How about our new district attorney, Frank Sedita?
Since taking office a few weeks ago, he's been trying to show people he's a different cat than his predecessor, Frank Clark, widely perceived, among other things, as disinterested in the misdeeds of public officials.
Well, Mr. New DA, here's your chance to show the public you're really different than the Human Quote Machine.
I can't close without harkening back to blog posts I wrote on New Year's Eve and back in April about the introduction of police surveillance cameras throughout the city without any rules in place to safeguard against abuses. Some of you readers responded by dismissing such concerns as paranoid.
Well, I stick by those concerns, especially in light of these latest developments. In fact, make that a double.