Sheriff's deputy convicted of assault and other counts stemming from 2017 stadium arrest
An Erie County Sheriff's Deputy was convicted Friday afternoon in Orchard Park Town Court of charges in relation to an incident outside New Era Field, during which he roughly arrested a fan who confronted officers about his friend's arrest moments before.
A jury of six people found Deputy Kenneth Achtyl guilty of reckless assault, official misconduct and falsifying a police report. Achtyl and his partner, Deputy James Flowers, had just arrested an unruly fan in a tailgate party lot near New Era Field on December 3, 2017. Soon after, Nicholas Belsito approached their patrol car demanding information on his friend's status.
Belsito himself was soon placed into custody. His arrest was captured on video by Achtyl's partner's bodycam. He could he seen bleeding in the face after, prosecutors say, he was struck in the face by Achtyl's baton.
Prosecutors say Achtyl let his rage get the best of him after Belsito hurled a vulgar insult toward him, and should never have left his patrol car. Following the verdict, Erie County District Attorney spoke in his downtown Buffalo office, describing law enforcers as "teammates" but adding that even they are not above the law.
"I need to maintain good order and discipline as the chief law enforcement officer of Erie County," Flynn said. "In order to maintain good order and discipline, I need to prosecute anyone who commits a crime. Anyone."
Achtyl was acquitted of intentional assault. In his instructions to the jury, Town Justice Jorge DeRosas told the panel they could only convict the defendant on one of the two assault charges against him. They could, however, acquit him on both assault counts if they found that appropriate.
Defense attorney Rodney Personius, in his closing argument, suggested Achtyl did not pursue Belsito simply because of that profanity but because it was the "straw that broke the camel's back" in a string of misdeeds including physical attempts to interfere with his friend's arrest.
Personius also described the bus party lot scene as "chaotic," with incidents including full beer cans being hurled and even a drunken woman punching a Sheriff's Office patrol horse in the face. In that atmosphere, he told jurors, Achtyl was unsure of his safety as Belsito approached.
Achtyl did not comment as he left the courtroom. Sheriff Timothy Howard was in attendance and did speak following proceedings. He says he has questions for Flynn's office, about why they dropped earlier charges against Belsito and why the DA's office did not speak directly to the deputies involved.
"And instead of talking with members of the Sheriff's Office, someone in the District Attorney's Office released the body camera footage after the criminal charges were dismissed, to a civil attorney who just happens to be a former district attorney," Howard said.
Flynn says the Sheriff's Office voluntarily delivered bodycam video to them. He also told reporters that there was key evidence which led to Achtyl's conviction that was not captured on the bodycam video.
"The totality of the circumstances, and what led up to the actual striking of the baton, the majority of that was not on bodycam," Flynn said. "Especially the part where Officer Achtyl got out of the car and went chasing after him, and grabbed him from behind with a baton around his neck, and pulled him back to the car. None of that was on bodycam."
Flynn also stated that while Belsito wasn't behaving properly, he was not deserving of a broken nose and concussion.
Belsito was also in the courtroom Friday but, like Achtyl, did not comment upon leaving. A civil lawsuit is pending against Achtyl and Flowers. The deputy remains free on his own recognizance and on administrative leave from the Sheriff's Office and is scheduled to be sentenced January 23 at 5 p.m.