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Erie County DA pushes exception in bail reform law, as gun violence rises

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced the change in bail recommendations for gun charges in a video message Thursday.

There may be fewer people facing gun and violence charges walking out of courts in Erie County under orders from District Attorney John Flynn.

Dealing with a massive wave of shootings and gun murders going back to early last year, the DA wants to take advantage of an exception in bail reform legislation.

"Shootings in general went up 100%, okay?" Flynn said. "Unfortunately, in 2021, we’re not off to a great start. Because just in the first 28 days of January, we’ve had nine homicides in the City of Buffalo. All nine of those homicides were shootings."

He said no bail for many lesser crimes is fine, but not violent felonies. Flynn said a message went out Thursday to violent crime bureau chiefs.

"You’re to ask for remand, which is no bail or high bail unless there is a valid reason," Flynn said. "And I said to them, 'I trust your discretion. You can use your discretion on what is a valid reason. You don’t have to come to me for a valid reason. I trust your discretion.' I want remand or high bail on all gun charges."

Credit Erie County District Attorney's Office
Curtis Hathcock pleaded guilty to felony attempted criminal possession of a weapon Thursday.

The message was triggered by a guilty plea from a Cheektowaga man to felony attempted criminal possession of a weapon. As a second felony offender, Curtis Hathcock faces seven years in prison when sentenced April 8.

On Aug. 7, Buffalo Police responding to a shots-fired call at Hertel Avenue and Virgil Avenue in North Buffalo spotted Hathcock and he ran on foot. Using a court warrant, the man’s car was searched and an illegal loaded pistol was found.

Flynn said Hathcock is on the street on low bail, as allowed by law, and he has been showing up in court.

"The judge is going to get upset," he said. "I don’t know what the judge has in his mind here. He faces up to seven years. Let’s say the judge has in his mind, 'Maybe I’ll give him five years,' okay? Now he doesn’t show up, okay? The judge can say, you know what buddy, I was going to give you five, but since you made me come out and find you, you’re getting seven now."

Flynn also announced that the county Grand Jury is resuming operations, after approval from 8th Judicial District Judge Paula Feroleto. It was the second time since March that non-essential, in-person court procedures had been suspended by the COVID pandemic.

WBFO's Mark Wozniak contributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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