OLEAN — Pressure continues to mount on city officials to release more information in relation to a vehicle chase and police-involved shooting a month ago.
Family members and activists sought information during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting on the March 28 car crash that hospitalized two women with serious injuries and involved at least one city police officer discharging his firearm.
Daniel Gayton’s niece, Seairra Gayton, was identified by police as being a passenger in and owner of the vehicle that was involved in an early-morning traffic stop and then a police chase which ended in the vehicle crashing into War Veterans Park. He said the lack of transparency only makes sense to him if the city is hiding liability by not releasing any information.
“If you’re not hiding anything, then show the video,” he said. “We don’t know what happened, and every day this goes on and on and gets longer and longer and longer, it starts to stink. It smells funny.
“It shouldn’t have gotten this far,” he said, noting that even some supporters of police have questioned the limited details provided by officials.
Gayton claimed to have seen photographs of the car taken for insurance reasons, which he said showed the vehicle was struck by nine bullets — seven on the passenger side, and two on the driver’s side — making him question if a single officer fired his weapon or if more than one was involved, as well as if police were actually in danger and needed to shoot.
The Times Herald has not reviewed the photographs and could not independently verify them.
Another speaker, Ty Malone — a member of the mayor-appointed police reform committee now working on a police review board proposal which would possibly have had review duties related to the March 28 incident — criticized leaders for inaction.
“Will you not at least show the families involved?” he said. “Why are other communities afforded transparency and accountability?”
Malone said that the city has dragged its heels on police reform — especially a review board — for too long.
“Olean should have the best police practices,” he said, noting that delays indicate to him that officials do not want change.
He noted that his daughter, who was recently licensed to drive, is hesitant to get behind the wheel after the incident.
“My daughter is 16 years old,” he said, visibly upset. “She’s scared to drive because she doesn’t know what’s going to happen.”
The only public comment made by a city official was from Council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, who said that profanity from one of the speakers was inappropriate.
Alderman Linda Witte, D-Ward 1, called for an executive session to discuss a personnel matter, a request that did not appear to be preplanned by council leadership.
Beyond a vehicle accident report and a short statement immediately after the incident, city officials have repeatedly declined to comment publicly on the case, noting it was handed over to the New York State Police. New York State Police officials have also declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
A Freedom of Information Law request for documents related to the incident filed by the Times Herald in mid-April received an automatically generated response indicating a decision on whether to honor, deny or request more time to fulfil the request “will be reached by approximately June 16.”
A request for comment from the state attorney general’s office went unanswered.
A state-mandated accident report provided by the police department to the Times Herald identified the driver of the vehicle as Kristiana M. Rivera, 21. A passenger was identified as Seairra M. Gayton, 18, the owner of the vehicle. Both were injured in the crash. Sources close to the investigation verified the name of the officer on paid leave as Patrolman Jason Baum, a 2018 hire by the department.
Several records should have been created in relation to the incident.
City police began fielding body cameras in mid-2020 after receiving a federal grant to help cover the cost in 2019. In addition, a 2020 state law requires a written report by an officer — on duty or off — if they discharge a firearm when it may strike a person. A state police-led accident reconstruction also presumably included photographs, diagrams and notes.