New York jail fires CO after shutting down catering port on inmate’s arm

By Matthieu Spina
Buffalo News

ALDEN, NY – Like other cells in the Erie County Correctional Facility, inmate Keshon D. Thorpe had a hatch in the door for getting meals and other items in and out.

One July morning, Thorpe refused to remove his right arm from the opening.

Correctional Officer Anil Kawal had to write a report on what happened next.

Because of the video, prison officials dropped the disciplinary case against the inmate which was based on the commander's version of events.

Because of the video, prison officials dropped the disciplinary case against the inmate which was based on the commander’s version of events. (Erie County Correctional Facility)

“This officer tried to close the hatch slowly,” Kawal wrote. But the door, he continued, “inadvertently made contact with the detainee’s right arm.”

Images from a camera mounted outside of Thorpe’s cell told a different story. It showed Kawal closing the door on Thorpe’s arm with “generous force,” one supervisor found.

Kawal’s bosses didn’t think the act was inadvertent at all. An unsigned account from the sheriff’s office said the officer acted with intent.

The video, obtained by The Buffalo News, shows it was all over in about a second. And Thorpe didn’t look hurt. As he screamed in protest, he still refused Kawal’s repeated order to “take his hand” out of the slot. (This portion of the video can be viewed at approximately 2:40 a.m.)

[View the full video at]

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard’s team don’t always discipline employees when the video reveals a lie. For example, no internal charges were filed when then-MP Kenneth Achtyl claimed a Buffalo Bills fan had a fight with him, although body camera video showed otherwise. . A jury found Achtyl guilty of assaulting the fan, who ended up with a concussion and a broken nose.

Another MP falsified his timesheets as he faced a “faint hope deal” signed after being convicted of a felony. Additionally, the MP’s responses during the internal investigation were “vague and unresponsive,” one official wrote. However, deputy Keith Capodicasa retained his post.

But slamming the door on the inmate’s arm – and lying about it, in the eyes of his supervisors – got Kawal fired.

“Clear evidence showed that the officer acted inappropriately and below the standards of the sheriff’s office,” Howard Deputy Sheriff John W. Greenan said. He is the second in command of an administration which will end on January 1 because Howard did not seek his re-election.

“The Erie County Sheriff’s Office will continue to deal expeditiously with any employee who mistreated someone in our care,” he said.

Because of the video, prison officials dropped the disciplinary case against Thorpe which was based on Kawal’s version of events. The incident report to the state agency that regulates local prisons has been reclassified from “individual disturbance of an inmate” to “assault on staff / inmate”. And the district attorney’s office has been notified.

Prosecutors, however, doubt they can prove Kawal committed a crime. “We are unable to prove its intention beyond a reasonable doubt in court,” a spokeswoman said.

Thorpe was not a model inmate. His criminal record mentioned his “aggressive behavior”. Believing he could cause trouble, prison officials pointed a camera directly at his cell.

West Seneca Police arrested him in November when he was called to a Bourbon Court house, where an intruder was threatening a woman who lived there and taking items from the house. Thorpe was charged with robbery and criminal mischief, among other counts, and released on arraignment without having to post bail.

The next day, West Seneca Police said, Thorpe returned to the residence and smashed a bottle of liquor against the woman’s face. This time he was held on $ 150,000 bail. He is now in state prison and eligible for parole in July 2023.

Based on the prison records, Thorpe finished his breakfast on July 20 and yelled at Kawal to get his tray back.

“Get your big black ass up and pick up my trash,” Thorpe shouted, according to the statement from Kawal who filed disciplinary charges against the inmate. In the video, Thorpe can be heard shouting harsh insults and demanding that his trash be picked up. An echo makes his words hard to distinguish, but the passing ones are not kind.

Later, after Kawal “inadvertently” closed the hatch door on Thorpe’s arm, the inmate threatened to kill the officer and his family, Kawal reported. If that happens, the video provided to The News under New York’s Freedom of Information Act ends before threats are heard.

Kawal said nothing about the threats during his disciplinary hearing on August 9.

When the penitentiary’s second-in-command, Chief Christine Green, gave him the floor, Kawal doubled down on his written report, which his supervisors had already ruled false.

“I would like to go with what my pink leaf says,” he said, according to a transcript.

A CSEA representative, John DiMartino, did most of the conversation: “Kawal’s statement that was submitted was truthful about what happened,” DiMartino said. “He cooperated with the hearing and all documents submitted with this incident. He has never been accused of lying in the past. He has never had incidents like this in the past.”

A week later, the Prison Management Division sent a letter to Kawal, who had been a deputy for just over two years and, according to records obtained by The News, had an unremarkable disciplinary record.

“Your employment with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office is terminated, effective immediately,” the letter said.

In March, months before the incident, the sheriff defended his agency’s approach to internal discipline as Erie County lawmakers asked him why he hadn’t treated some MPs with a firmer hand .

Howard, along with Greenan, explained that an employee’s dismissal can backfire if his union takes the matter to arbitration and the worker is reinstated. The employer usually gets back wages, which can be doubly costly for the employer if a replacement worker was at work while the case was pending, they said.

The Sheriff’s Office, under Howard or his successor, will face this potential scenario with Kawal. Although the former deputy and his union representative did not return phone messages asking for comment, Greenan told The News that CSEA Local 815 had filed documents to submit the case to arbitration. .

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(c) 2021 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)

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