NY AG sues EC Sheriff over 'failure to address sexual misconduct' behind bars

Mar 17, 2021

New York State Attorney General Letitia James' office announced Wednesday it has filed a lawsuit against Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard, to address what James describes as "failing to address rampant sexual misconduct in correctional facilities."

Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard
Credit WBFO file photo

In the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the New York State Commission of Correction, James contends Howard, on eight occasions, did not comply with directives to report allegations of sexual misconduct within correctional facilities in a timely manner, and on some of those occasions did so only after media reports brought those allegations to light.

The complaint also contends Howard's office "conducted insufficient investigations into several of the incidents by neglecting to interview witnesses, evaluate all available evidence, or refer the matters for criminal investigation."

“The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has an abysmal track record of complying with the requirement to notify the commission of incidents that jeopardize the safety and well being of individuals in custody, facility staff and the community,” said Commission of Correction Chairman Allen Riley in a prepared statement. "This latest failure to report and properly investigate allegations of crimes committed within the Erie County Holding Center and Correctional Facility is particularly egregious: There can be no consent when someone is incarcerated. I thank Attorney General James for her office’s work with commission staff to hold the sheriff’s office accountable for ignoring its obligations and to institute policies that aim to prevent this flagrant behavior from occurring in the future."

A spokesperson for the Erie County Sheriff's Office, when contacted by WBFO for comment, stated that the Office had not been notified of any proceedings, thus it could not comment on pending litigation.

The Attorney General's lawsuit seeks several injunctive actions, including:

  • Enjoining the Sheriff’s Office from violating the SCOC’s regulations; 

  • Directing the Sheriff’s Office to appoint an independent monitor to conduct a retrospective audit of incident reporting; 

  • Directing the Sheriff’s Office to provide the SCOC with proof of training related to New York’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual misconduct in correctional facilities, how to handle situations where incarcerated individuals allege sexual misconduct, and the SCOC guidelines for reporting such misconduct; 

  • Directing the Sheriff’s Office to provide specialized training for investigators and other appropriate staff regarding investigating sexual abuse in correctional settings; and

  • Developing and/or revising procedures related to the review, investigation, and assessment of reportable incidents, and to work with the SCOC to develop and improve upon existing policies and procedures.

Last week, Sheriff Howard met virtually with the Erie County Legislature's Public Safety Committee to address concerns for his office's Professional Standards department.

Legislature Chair April Baskin released the following statement Wednesday: “At last week’s meeting the Erie County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, I pushed back against Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard’s claims that reports of sexual misconduct by sheriff’s deputies and jail staff were false. I stressed that his administration’s failure to report accusations to the New York State Commission of Correction made discovering the truth nearly impossible. I want to thank New York State Attorney General Letitia James and the Commission of Correction for taking these allegations seriously. The Erie County Legislature has been working to hold the Erie County Sheriff’s Office accountable, and I fully support the Attorney General in this suit. It is a shame that Sheriff Howard must be sued in order to do the right thing, but I am grateful to have an ally in Letitia James.”