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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Six months after the racist massacre at the Jefferson Avenue Tops in Buffalo the legal process against the suspect is moving forward just as the bills to watch over him are piling up.
2 On Your Side went to talk with the Erie County Sheriff as he raises concerns about the cost of keeping the suspected shooter in custody.
We have seen Peyton Gendron in his court appearances in the Erie County Courthouse as he is surrounded by a squad of sheriff’s deputies to help protect him. But we obviously do not see him as he is being held at the Erie County Holding Center under very close and costly supervision for the sheriff’s office, the county, and taxpayers.
“It’s taxing on us. It’s taxing on our staff. For the 180-plus days that we’ve had him in our custody the taxpayers and from our office budget – it’s cost us well over $300,000, ” Sheriff John Garcia says.
The shooting suspect is currently spending his days in an isolated pod of cells in the Erie County Holding Center with a short break for exercise and he can watch television.
Again, the only glimpses we get of him are at state and federal court proceedings which require plenty of security. Sometimes we have seen the Sheriff’s SWAT team on standby at the courthouse and bomb-sniffing dogs even checking the cell phones of all those in the courtroom gallery including the media.
“My concern is with anybody’s safety while being in here. So after the horrific crime, he is alleged to have committed – then you have an individual that might have suicidal ideations and whatever. But with that being said – he is under 24 /7 observation,” Garcia says.
We have not seen or really heard from any of his family members and law enforcement officials and prosecutors told us they were not aware of their presence until they recently appeared at the Erie County Holding Center. Garcia says, “As part of his legal visits with his attorneys, his parents did visit. There was a federal court order we had to comply with.”
The Sherriff says as the six-month mark has now passed, they are asking Albany and Washington for help.
2 On Your Side asked, “Do you fear that your office would be in essence on the hook here for watching over him for years to come?
“That’s one of our fears is that for 180 days our costs is $300,000 -what would the costs be three years from now? It’s something that we need to fix the problem now. And that’s why I’m being vocal about this. And that’s why gonna reach out to our state and federal partners and see if there’s any monies that could help us in absorbing some of these costs,” Garcia replied.
The Sheriff says he has recently discussed these cost factors with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and county legislators.
“It’s pretty clear that I as the sheriff and this administration would like this case to conclude and for him to move on to wherever else he is going. We don’t have the staff to accommodate an incarcerated individual like this.”
“We’ve compiled a list of costs and I’ve going to see if we are able to get reimbursed by state or federal dollars and again it’s to be fiscally responsible because at the end of the day it’s our taxpayers that are paying for all this.”
Attorneys we have consulted point out that the state and federal cases against the suspect could indeed last for years. That may especially be the case at the federal level where the US Justice Department and federal prosecutors must decide if they will actually seek the death penalty and a lengthy review process if they decide to go in that direction.
The suspect currently has court-appointed lawyers at the county/state level who may be compensated and he has representation by Federal Public Defenders. All the court costs as well for prosecutors, trial preparation, and expert witnesses must obviously be covered as well by the taxpayer-funded – legal system.
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