Jail guard suspended after confrontation

Video shows driver, wearing an "All Lives Matter" t-shirt, wielding a baseball bat to threaten anti-racism protesters

An Erie County Sheriff’s Office employee has been placed on administrative leave after being caught on camera menacing Black Lives Matter protesters with a baseball bat during a march Saturday evening in South Buffalo.

A video shared more than 300 times on Facebook shows a man wearing an “All Lives Matter” t-shirt climbing out of his pickup truck, then cursing and approaching protesters waving an aluminum bat. An estimated 100 to 150 protesters were marching near Mount Mercy Academy. 

Commenters on the post identified the man as a corrections officer with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office who was off-duty at the time. The Sheriff’s Office has not identified the officer, however.

I was in complete and utter awe when I found out he was in law enforcement,” Drew Gersek, one of the protesters, told Investigative Post. “It’s the kind of thing we are protesting against and it happened right in front of our faces.”

Gersek said the incident only lasted a few minutes. He said the group mobilized “creating a barrier” around the person who the Sheriff’s office worker was targeting. 

“No one was terrified or scared of this guy,” Gersek said. “With the pepper balls and rubber bullets, we’ve been through so much [while protesting] that it’s normalized at this point.” 

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In the video, the driver can be heard alleging protesters touched his truck. Protesters told Investigative Post he was yelling racial slurs at the group before getting out of his vehicle. 

Erie County jail superintendent Thomas Diina “has placed the employee on administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation,” according to a press release. It is unclear whether that leave is paid or unpaid. Further inquiries from Investigative Post have not been responded to.

According to a release from April Baskin, chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature, the Sheriff’s Office expects the investigation to conclude in a week. 

“It is unacceptable for an Erie County, let alone a member of county law enforcement, to aggressively approach a crowd of protestors with a baseball bat,” Baskin said in a statement. 

“If the employee felt threatened, there are far more responsible ways to deal with the situation. Law enforcement’s response to a crowd of protestors, peaceful or not, must always be responsible and measured.” 

This is not the first time a member of local law enforcement has been suspended of late following interactions with protesters or people challenging their conduct.

Two Buffalo police officers are facing felony assault charges after Martin Gugino was injured during a June 4 protest in front of City Hall. Lt. Michael DeLong was suspended for 30 days after he called a woman a vile name outside a West Side convenience store. Both episodes were captured on video.