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Rushing to defense

Retired police personnel comment on DA candidates

Patrick Swanson, left, is being challenged by Jason Schmidt for district attorney.

Retired county law-enforcement members are in a political tug-of-war in voicing their support and opposition to the re-election of incumbent Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson.

In letters sent to The Post-Journal and OBSERVER over the weekend, former Fredonia Police Chief Bradley C. Meyers says “nobody has a better understanding of all the challenges” in the ever-changing state judicial landscape as Swanson. In the meantime, another group of retired officers and detectives that worked for the Dunkirk Police Department is giving their support behind challenger Jason Schmidt. Their endorsement, signed by 11 comes days after the Dunkirk Police Benevolent announced its backing of Schmidt.

Both letters indicate just how important both sides believe the coming Nov. 3 election will be. Swanson, during his four years in office, has lost a number of high-profile cases. The incumbent also is of the opinion his office is understaffed when it comes to protecting the public. At a recent Jamestown Rotary meeting he noted the state funding of the public defender’s office is nearly double that of his office.

Meyers, who currently works as a part-time senior investigator for the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office, understands Swanson’s plight. “Over the years, as it pertains to funding and staffing, I’ve watched the District Attorney’s Office — as well as the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office and Probation — (be) used as a pawn by both political parties,” wrote the 35-year veteran. “I belong to no political party and usually vote for candidates from several parties based on the person not the party.

“I’ve seen changes in the law that have had a huge impact on the ability of the DA’s office to bring justice to victims in Chautauqua County. bail reform, evidence discovery reform, and raise the age legislation are just a few. I witnessed the current DA Patrick Swanson, a Democrat, stand shoulder to shoulder with politicians — mostly Republicans — at press conferences calling for a review of Bail Reform before it was ultimately put in place. These new laws are complicated and have not been further defined — tested — by case law and the appellate court process.”

Dunkirk’s retired officers, however, praise Schmidt for keeping police involved, fighting for victims and taking on the tough cases. “A proficient district attorney knows when to fight for jail sentences, either through a strong plea agreement or by taking a case to trial,” they write. “Patrick Swanson is not fighting and doing everything he possibly can to put serious criminals behind bars. When Swanson takes cases to trial, he is ill-prepared and he loses. Most cases over the last four years get plea reductions and lenient sentences.

“The police keep arresting the same person time and again, repeating a dangerous cycle for individual officers and our community. Through his leadership the police are more vulnerable and our community is at risk. Over the last four years we have all seen first-hand how Swanson, an inexperienced and unprepared District Attorney, negatively affects the police, the community and most importantly the victims of the crime.”

Besides the support of Meyers, Swanson also received the backing of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Police. “This is an important endorsement,” Swanson said. “I’ve worked hard. I’ve fought for justice. And I received their endorsement a second time as I run for re-election. I’m proud to be backed by troopers all over this county and this state.

The association represents more than 6,000 troopers statewide.

Meyers believes no matter who is county district attorney, the system of justice will only become tougher. “You cannot measure the success or failure of DA Swanson based on a comparison to past DA’s that brought cases forward under different sets of rules in front of different judges and jurors,” he said. “Above all, don’t believe for a minute that a different DA will bring about a different result.”

Dunkirk’s retired officers disagree. “The likelihood that the worst crimes committed will lead to a conviction are currently incredibly low, the victims of those crimes are more and more unlikely to see justice, and there is less and less fear of punishment for those that commit serious crimes,” they wrote.

The letter signers for Dunkirk retirees include: Police Chief John Yannie, 33 years service; Capt. Kenneth Kaus, 30 years service; Lt. Patrick Mackowiak, 37 years service; Lt. Robert McAfee, 27 years of service; Sgt. Rick Mazurek, 32 years service; Detective Richard Cieslewicz, 32 years of service; Detective Greg Hite, 30 years of service; Officer Kris Sosinski, 28 years of service; Sgt. Stephanie Stanton, 26 years of service; Officer Edwin Pagan, 23 years of service; Officer Denise Zentz, 21 years of service.

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