OLEAN — It has been more than two weeks since a city police officer fired his gun during a high-speed chase that hospitalized two people, but state investigators are still declining to comment on the ongoing investigation.
New York State Police Public Information Officer James O’Callaghan said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the March 28 incident.
“That’s still under investigation by our Bureau of Criminal Investigations,” he said, adding that once the investigation is complete more information would be made available.
Troopers reported that during a traffic stop on Garden Avenue at around 3:30 a.m., city police were involved in a chase with the vehicle and an officer discharged his weapon.
While troopers have not identified the officer involved, a member of the public identified the officer during a public meeting on Tuesday as Patrolman Jason Baum, who joined the department in 2018 and has about three years of experience. Sources close to the investigation confirmed the identification.
A video circulating through social media appeared to show a portion of the pursuit, as well as audio that appeared to record nine gunshots. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
The chase came to an end after the SUV failed to negotiate a curve in East State Street, jumping the curve, striking a lighting bollard and crashing into the city’s Irish Famine Memorial before coming to a stop in War Veterans Park.
In a motor vehicle accident report filed by city police — which is required under state law in any accident involving a personal injury or more than $1,000 in damages — city police 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.
Mayor Bill Aiello, who did not confirm the identity, said the involved officer is out on paid administrative leave during the investigation, as required under the collective bargaining agreement with the police union.
City police turned over the investigation to state police that day, citing a conflict of interest in investigating one of their own, and declining any further comment on the case until the investigation is complete.
After the crash, police charged Rivera with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, an unclassified misdemeanor; and leaving the roadway, speed not prudent, reckless driving and driving on the sidewalk, infractions. No charges were filed for fleeing from police or any violent crimes.
The New York Office of the Attorney General, which has played a role in other police use-of-force investigations, did not return a request for comment.
A Freedom of Information Law request filed electronically with the state police did not receive an immediate response.
THE FATHER OF a the passenger in the vehicle sought the assistance of the Olean Common Council on Tuesday.
During a public comment session during the meeting, Adam Gayton of Allegany said he is the father of Seairra Gayton, a student at Jamestown Community College.
Referring to traveling to Erie County Medical Center following an airlift, not knowing her condition — or whether she was even alive — as “the longest drive of my life,” he asked officials to “be more transparent” and provide answers to the public.
Gayton said his daughter was airlifted with several broken bones and internal bleeding after the incident.
“My concern for my child, when I moved back here, was maybe sliding down the icy hills of Rock City, not being gunned down in the middle of the night coming from a party,” he told the council.
“It should be a public matter. … It’s very disturbing to me, in a small community like this, in a residential area, that something like this could result in gunfire,” he said. “We’ve really got to get together with the transparency here so we can put this to bed. Otherwise, there’s going to be serious problems here.”
ON WEDNESDAY, Aiello told the Times Herald his office is receiving limited information about the investigation — and his hands are tied due to the state police having control of the investigation.
“It’s frustrating for me, too,” the mayor said. “I want to be able to give out answers, too.
“The state police requested all press releases come through the state police, so we’re honoring that request,” Aiello said, adding he has also consulted with the city attorney’s office.
The mayor said he is working with Police Chief Ron Richardson to set up a meeting with investigators “so I can get some questions answered, too.”
While he could not comment directly on the investigation, he explained how the NYSP became involved.
“That was a decision the chief and Capt. (Robert) Blovsky made, then they called me — and I was in total support of that,” Aiello said, adding the decision was made the morning of the incident.
Aiello said that while incidents such as the one on March 28 are uncommon, investigations into police-related issues have been routinely handed over to the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office or the state police for many years, including during his 32 years as a city police officer.
The mayor added that such investigations do take time, however, and rely on laboratory results for ballistics, DNA, accident reconstructions and other data. Investigators will also have to consult with the Cattaraugus County District Attorney’s Office, Aiello added.
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)