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September 23, 2011 - 3:18pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime.

Each fall these days, as students return to school, the issuing of bullying makes the news again.

Usually, it's related to the tragic suicide of a teenager who was picked on by his peers.

This fall, the death wasn't too far from home.

Jamey Rodemeyer, a freshman at Williamsville North High School took his own life after years of being victimized by bullies.

The case has drawn the attention of Erie County law enforcment, which is a reminder that bullying isn't just cruel. It's a crime.

Yesterday morning, I spoke with Det. Rich Schauf of Batavia PD and this morning I spoke with Christopher Dailey, principal at Batavia HS, about how bullying is handled within the city. Much of the information they have to share should be applicable throughout Genesee County.

The primary laws that could be used to prosecute a bully are harassment, a violation, and aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor.

Harassment usually involves pushing and shoving or similar violent acts that do not cause serious physical injury but are intended to annoy or alarm the victim.

Aggravated harassment is phone calls, text messages and messages left in online venues that are intended to alarm and annoy the victim.

If the bully is, say, 17, and the victim is, for example, 14, a charge of endangering the welfare of a child is also possible.

The age of the bully is also a factor in what police can do with the case and how the judicial system will deal with it.

If the bully is 14 or 15, or younger, there won't be criminal charges filed. Instead intervention and counseling is used to try and change behavior.

If the bully is 16 or older, then it can become a criminal matter.

These days, bullies use electronic devices to victimize their targets -- phone calls, texting, Facebook messages and other websites are used to leave harassing notes.

In the case of Rodemeyer, the most recent abuse meted out toward him was on a blog he set up at Formspring. Among the messages left for him were:

* "Kill your self!!!! You have nothing left!"

* "Listen to us, you're a bad person, you don't belong here, jump off a bridge or something!"

* "Go kill yourself, you're worthless, ugly and don't have a point to live."

When people leave messages like that, Schauf said, even when they're determined to be criminal in nature, proving who left the message can be difficult.

"The bully might say, 'I lost my phone,' and you ask, 'Did you report it missing or stolen?' and they'll say, 'Well, a friend had it,'" Schauff said. "It's really hard sometimes to put that person in the position of having sent the messages. That's an uphill climb in these investigations."

Investigators must prove the bully was physically in control of the computer or phone used to send the messages at the time the messages were sent.

That isn't always easy, Schauf said.

However, just the intervention of law enforcement can sometimes change a bully's behavior, Schauf said, a point Dailey reiterated.

"Usually we get both parents involved (before contacting police) and that puts an end to it," Dailey said. "We get everybody together and hash it out. Usually a visit from police ends it pretty quick if our intervention doesn't work out."

Dailey said the vast majority of the time, when school officials confront a bully about hurtful and harassing cyber messages, the bully fesses up immediately.

School officials take bullying very seriously, Dailey said.

"When something like this comes up (the death of Rodemeyer), it's something all the staff talks about," Dailey said. "It's a reminder to pay attention to this. We don't want it to happen here. We don't want to be the next headline."

Four years ago, the school started a mentoring program for freshmen which includes an orientation day before classes start and mentoring for the freshmen by upperclassmen.

Since the program started, Dailey said, bullying in the school has dropped 22 percent.

"I'd be lying if I said it was gone totally, but it has gone down significantly," Dailey said.

In October, teachers and staff will receive additional training on dealing with bullying.

It's important to take seriously, Dailey said, because unlike with previous generations when somebody might get bullied at school, but then go home and be away from it, in a safe environment, now the bullying follows the victim across the internet and through mobile phones and text messages.

"If I were bullied as a kid, I could escape it," Dailey said. "Now, for these kids who get caught up in that web they cannot escape it, which is why we have to be more vigilant. The old 'boys will be boys' attitude doesn't fly any more."

Schauf said anybody can report bullying to the police, even just a witness -- such as somebody who sees harassing messages online. But in order to press charges, the victim must be willing to cooperate. If there isn't a cooperating victim, police won't be able to complete an investigation and file charges.

That can sometimes be hard to get, Schauf said, because some victims just want the problem to go away and be left alone.

(Schauff encouraged witnesses to call the BPD's confidential tip line, which will go straight to investigators, rather than emergency dispatch when reporting possible bullying. The number is 343-6370.)

The difficulties in prosecuting bullies, Schauf said, are why a good relationship between the police and the school is so important. 

Investigators trust that school officials will bring serious cases to them and handle appropriately those cases they can handle internally.

"Schools have a bit more leeway to take action on the punishment aspect," Schauf said. "We work really well together to mete out the best consequences we can get, working between the two styles."

Further reading: Tips on avoiding cyber bullies.

September 23, 2011 - 2:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in elba.

There's a report of a slick roadway on Route 262 in the area of Route 98, possibly due to oil on the road surface.

UPDATE 3:21 p.m.: State DOT on location, putting sand down.

September 22, 2011 - 10:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire.

A possible fire in the wall has been reported at 17 1/2 Central Ave., Batavia.

City of Batavia Fire Department responding.

UPDATE 10:31 p.m.: City firefighters on scene. Nothing showing. It's a two-story, wood-frame structure.

UPDATE 10:33 p.m.: Possible short in an electrical outlet. Firefighters opening up the wall to check for extension.

UPDATE 10:35 p.m.: Wall opened, no fire.

UPDATE 10:49 p.m.: Power shut off at 17 1/2 Central Ave. The residents are getting a few things and will stay at a neighbor's. Residents advised to contact the landlord. City fire back in service.


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September 22, 2011 - 9:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman wasn't immediately available earlier today following the acquittal of Ronald Smith on three counts of sexual abuse in the first degree. Geoff Redick and I waited until he was available and asked him about the verdict. Rather than weave his answers into our previous post on the not-guilty verdict, here is what he had to say:

On his initial reaction:
"To state the obvious, we were disappointed. We pursued this case because we believed the defendant committed these crimes, so it’s always a disappointment."

On whether mistakes were made in the prosecution:
"I‘m not second-guessing anything about how the case was tried. I think it went well, but as I said earlier, that is our jury system, where we have to have a unanimous verdict of 12 people convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. I think that’s the best answer. We do have a heavy burden and obviously the jury felt that was not met."

On what the jury said after the verdict:
"Quite frankly, as you know, we do talk to jurors afterwards, but I guess I don’t want future jurors to be stifled thinking that we’re going to be making things public (that) they say to us.

"It’s not that there’s anything about this case that I’m holding back on, it’s just that we like to respect their privacy."

On the difficulty of proving intent for sexual gratification:
"I always think it’s interesting that the more serious sex offenses like first-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act -- crimes involving forceable compulsion, much more serious crimes -- those don’t have that element of sexual gratification. It’s really understandable why they don’t.

Really, these are crimes of violence, not necessarily being committed for sexual gratification. So to me it just always seems unusual that when you get to a lower-level offense such as sexual abuse, you’ve got that added element that we don’t have in more serious crimes. And yes it can be very difficult to prove the purpose of the act was to satisfy sexual gratification.

"Actually, in this case, I thought we were better off than most because of statements the defendant made, which were in the video, that I think reflected what he termed an accidental touching of the victim."

On the fact the jurors didn't know Smith is a Level 3 sex offender:
That’s the very reason they can’t know. In a case like this, it could effect the verdict, even with a warning from the court. That’s why they are not allowed to know, because obviously the idea is they shouldn’t be basing their verdict on what somebody has done in the past, they should be basing it on the evidence that’s presented in this trial. Granted, it adds to our frustration  when we know the person’s history and the jury doesn’t."

September 22, 2011 - 2:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime.

A 21-year-old Batavia woman was in Genesee County Court today, accused of violating probation, less than 24 hours after her same-sex marriage made front-page news.

Judge Robert C. Noonan was ready to send Katrina Drake to jail for allegedly using drugs while on probation, especially, he indicated, because she is pregnant.

Public Defender Gary Horton asked for time to find a drug rehabilitation program for Drake and Noonan granted a 30-day recess, but said if she continues to use drugs, she's going to jail.

The reason Drake is on probation is not available because her case was adjudicated as "youthful offender status." The case would have been filed prior to her turning 19.

Drake married Toni White in a civil service outside the courthouse yesterday.

September 22, 2011 - 2:20pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, corfu.

A 52-year-old Corfu woman who shot her husband in his knee in August 2010 entered a guilty plea today to a charge of assault, 2nd, as a reckless action.

Patricia A. Hardesty, of 3483 County Line Road, Corfu, admitted to Judge Robert C. Noonan that she fired a .22-caliber rifle at her husband, hitting him in his knee and that she knew at the time her actions could cause bodily harm.

Hardesty faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Upon Hardesty's request, her bail was revoked and she was remanded to the Genesee County Jail following her guilty plea.

As part of the deal, the District Attorney's Office agrees to expedit the return of items to her husband that were seized as evidence, including siding on their garage, which had bullet holes in it, the gun and a hat.

September 22, 2011 - 1:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime.

A jury has returned a verdict of not guilty on all three counts of sexual abuse in the first degree filed against Ronald Smith.

Smith is a Level 3 sex offender who was accused of reoffending within months of being released from prison on his prior conviction.

Public Defender Gary Horton declined an interview request following the verdict, saying, "It is what it is. The jury worked hard and you've got to respect the verdict."

Smith was accused of using a finger to touch the private part of a 7-year-old girl on three separate occasions between October 2010 and January.

After the jury was dismissed, Smith hugged Horton and spoke briefly with his attorneys before being taken by deputies back to the jail.

Smith was previously convicted of failure to register his proper address as a registered sex offender.

He's serving a sentence of one-and-a-third to three years on that conviction.

September 22, 2011 - 12:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Oakfield.

Skyler Chiffon Perry, 21, of East Main Street, Batavia, is charged with trespass. Perry is accused of being at College Village at 2:15 a.m., Sept. 4, after previously being banned from the property.

Katherine Elizabeth Crist, 22, of Cobblestone Court, Holley, is charged with DWI, aggravated DWI, consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle, speeding (75 in a 55 mph zone) and unlawful possession of marijuana. Crist was stopped at 9:10 p.m., Tuesday, on Route 262 in Elba by Deputy Brad Mazur.

Adam J. Pentycofe, 27, of Coe Avenue, Oakfield, is charged with DWI and driving with a BAC of .18 or greater. Pentycofe was allegedly involved in a fight in the parking lot of a local business at 1:41 a.m., Sept. 17. He was later stopped on Lewiston Road by Sgt. Greg Walker.

September 22, 2011 - 12:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, steve hawley, patriot trip.

At Batavia Downs this morning, more than 100 people boarded buses headed for Washington D.C. as part of the annual Patriot Trip hosted by Assemblyman Steve Hawley. The trip includes visits to Arlington National Cemetery, the Washington Mall and various war-related museums and monuments.

September 21, 2011 - 6:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime.

A jury charged with deciding guilt or innocence in a case of alleged sexual abuse, spent this afternoon deliberating but has yet to reach a verdict.

The jury reconvenes at 9:30 a.m.

After a day and a half of testimony in the trial of Ronald Smith, the jury heard closing arguments late this morning from Public Defender Gary Horton and Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini.

Smith, a Level 3 sex offender who was out of prison just a few months before he allegedly sexually abused a 7-year-old girl, is charged with three counts of sexual abuse,1st. If convicted, he could be sentenced to as much as three consecutive seven-year sentences.

In order to convict Smith, Horton told the jury, each juror must find beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith intended to achieve sexual gratification when he allegedly touched the little girl's private parts.

Horton argued that there is no evidence that Smith intentionally touched the girl in a sexual manner.

According to Horton, a videotape of a police interrogation of Smith fails to demonstrate that Smith intentionally touched the girl in a sexual way.

"They ask the same question over and over again because they're not satisfied with the answer," Horton told the jury. "They even suggest answers. 'We know you touched this girl in this way,' they said. But what you have is Ronald Smith protesting vehemently that he ever touched that little girl, not in that way, not in a sexual way."

(For fuller coverage of the videotape evidence, read Geoff Redick's story on WBTA's website.)

Horton also told the jury that the young alleged victim changed her story on the witness stand, first saying that Smith had touched her bare skin when questioned by Cianfrini, denying it when questioned by Horton, and then saying again that Smith touched her in her private area and touched bare skin.

Smith is accused of using his finger to touch the girl's intimate area on three different occasions -- once on a visit to her mother's house when he was in the mother's bedroom with her and his 1-year-old child, once in the living room while they watched TV and once in her bedroom.

At one point in testimony, however, according to Horton, the girl even denied Smith ever came over to her house.

Horton was careful not to accuse the alleged victim of lying.

"I point all of this out, not to say this little 7-year-old is involved in some grand conspiracy to bring false accusations against my client," Horton said. "I am saying that, because of her age and level of understanding, she was asked many leading questions. And when she testified she agreed with Ms. Cianfrini, and when I asked the questions she agreed with me."

Horton said the girl showed the same propensity to agree with an adult authority figure when questioned at the Child Advocacy Center by a doctor.

There may be evidence that the girl was molested by another man when visiting his house in another county.

"I am saying it is quite possible that this little girl was molested by somebody else," Horton said.

Cianfrini, in her closing argument, said all of the evidence pointed toward Smith -- that he knowingly, purposefully and for sexual gratification touched the girl's vagina.

"Three times is not an accident," Cianfrini said.

A good portion of Cianfrini's argument involved pointing out Smith's inconsistent statements.

At one time, in a written statement, he denied ever going over to the girl's mother's house to visit his own child when there wasn't another adult present.

But in the video, he clearly admits being alone with the girl at times, but denies touching her in a sexual way.

"Maybe I touched her on accident, but it was when I was playing with her, when we were wrestling," Smith said. "If I did touch her – I never have – but if I did, it was on accident."

Later in the tape, Smith talks with investigators about wrestling with his sexual demons, saying he had conquered those demons, which is why he said he told the girl not to cling to him all the time.

Cianfrini said the girl's testimony was consistent and contained the kind of detail that makes her believable.

"Her recall was accurate," Cianfrini said. "She was able to testify accurately and in detail as to the place of the incidents, what rooms she was in. She was able to describe what she was doing, what Ron was doing and what her baby sister was doing. She was able to tell you what clothes she was wearing. She could tell you where the baby was located."

It was clear, Cianfrini said, that Horton's questions often confused her and once she understood the questions, she gave consistent answers.

September 21, 2011 - 6:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, advertising, Sponsored Post, advertisment.

We've selected the winners of three contests we recently held on The Batavian.

In the Facebook "Like" contest sponsored by Hardcor Audio, Brian Staebell is the winner. Staebell wins a free remote starter from Hardcor Audio.

In the Facebook "Like" contest sponsored by Scratch Bakery, the winner is Denise Rader. Rader wins a birthday party package.

In the Facebook "Like" contest sponsored by The Batavian, Lynn Bezon is the winner. Bezon wins an 8G iPod.

Thank you to all who participated. We'll have more contests as soon as we get them organized.

September 21, 2011 - 4:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, photos, Sumner Street.

I happened down Sumner Street in the city this afternoon -- when the sun was still out -- and spotted a row of sunflowers in a resident's yard. My natural reaction, "let's take some pictures." Here's two of them.

September 21, 2011 - 10:21am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, State Street, Norris Avenue.

Press release:

The Batavia Police Department is investigating two reported incidents of residential burglary. One incident occurred at a home in the 200 block of State Street. The other incident occurred at a Norris Avenue residence.

Both incidents occurred during the late evening hours, of Monday, September 19th or during the early morning hours of Tuesday, September 20th. During both incidents, the homes were occupied and doors had been left unlocked.

Cash was taken from a purse during the State Street incident. A laptop computer was taken during the Norris Avenue incident.

Anyone with information or anyone having observed suspicious activity is encouraged to contact the Batavia Police Department at 585-345-6350 or the Batavia Police Department’s Confidential Tip Line at 585-345-6370. Information can also be submitted via the Suspicious Activity Report link at the website of the Batavia Police Department.

Residents are reminded to secure the doors to their homes, especially during the overnight hours.

September 21, 2011 - 10:17am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Oakfield, Alabama, Grand Jury.

Jody B. Gillett is indicted on two felony counts of menacing a police officer, one count of criminal possession of a weapon, 3rd, and two counts of menacing, 2nd. Gillett is accused threatening, with a knife, two members of the Genesee County Sheriff's Office during an incident July 24 at 8 Pine Hollow Road. He is also accused threatening, with a knife, two other people in the same incident.

Grant A. Sundown Jr., is indicted on a count of DWI and aggravated DWI, driving with a BAC of .18 or greater and three counts of aggravated unlicensed operation. Sundown is accused of driving drunk on Lewiston Road, Oakfield, on April 7.

Paul Wapniewski is indicted on a count of burlgary, 3rd, criminal mischief, 2nd, and petit larceny. Wapniewski is accused of breaking into Delavan's Restaurant, 107 Evans St., Batavia, on May 6.

Jose A. Torres is indicted on two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance, 3rd. Torres is accused of possessing cocaine on March 28 with the intent to sell it.

Charles L. Muntz is indicated on a felony count of DWI. Muntz is accused of driving drunk on Griffin Road, Alabama, on April 16.

September 21, 2011 - 8:39am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia.

A Batavia nurse is among a group of professionals disciplined for alleged misconduct by Board of Regents of the NYS Department of Education, reports Buffalo First.

Buffalo First reports:

Tracy Ann Niemi, a licensed practical nurse in Batavia, agreed to an indefinite actual suspension for no less than three months and until she is found fit to practice, after which she will be on probation for two years and pay a $500 fine.

No details were released on where Niemi worked or what she reportedly did to violate standards.

September 20, 2011 - 11:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Garden Estates.

Residents of Stringham Drive and Violet Lane made it pretty clear at a Town of Batavia Planning Board meeting Tuesday night -- they don't want an out-of-town developer creating another State or Thorpe street in their neighborhood.

Several residents spoke about their concerns over the proposed Garden Estate development, whose developer is reportedly receiving a $6 million grant to build 19 subsidized homes, even though there's no evidence of a shortage of low-income housing in Genesee County.

The purpose of the meeting was to uncover areas of concern residents might have related to the environmental impact of the project and create what's called a "scoping document." That is a detailed outline of issues that will be contained in the environmental review statement.

While some residents worried about traffic impacts, most comments were pointed at the developer, Rochester-based Nathaniel Development Corp., and whether the project is really needed in Batavia.

Only one representative of Nathaniel was at the meeting, attorney James Bonsignore, and the unwillingness of corporate executives to attend serves as proof, residents said, that Nathaniel is trying to pull a fast one on Batavia. Planning board members say it's very unusual for the main developer not to go to at least one meeting during the review process.

"My other concern," said one resident after questioning the integrity of the developer, "is the type of people who are going to move in and how it impacts the rest of the community."

That was one of the statements that seemed to upset Bonsignore, who stormed out of the meeting when it was over, and initially refused to answer a reporter's questions or even share a copy of his business card.

Pressed for a response to some of the points raised by residents, Bonsignore spun around and said, "Here, you want a statement, one of the persons tonight said that his main concern is the type of people that are going to live there. He made an admission on the record that they're asking the board to discriminate. The law is absolutely clear that uses as determined by the planning board are to be determined by the use of the land not the persons who own it or occupy it."

Bonsignore also became testy during the meeting, when asked near the end to provide information on a reported $6 million grant for Garden Estates. He refused.

"I don't want to disclose it," Bonsignore said. "That information will come out, but when I'm sitting here under personal attack, when I'm just here to represent a developer on a project and I'm attacked for just doing my job, I'm not going to participate in this discussion."

While several residents called Nathaniel Development Corp. untrustworthy, and  seemed dismayed over the developer's lack of transparency, none of their remarks were directed at Bonsignore.

Though some people did indicate that, previously, Bonsignore more or less tried to run the meeting and tell the planning board how to do its job.

"They (Nathaniel Development) are dishonest and deceitful and they don't show up at our meetings," said Jean Butzer, summing up the sentiments expressed by several residents. "I'm not saying I don't want this development in my neighborhood. I'm saying I don't want them in my town or in my county."

Several people applauded Butzer's remarks.

At the start of the meeting, Bonsignore made a statement at the request of Kathy Jasinski, chairwoman of the board, and said that worries over how the project is funded and who might move into the 19 homes are beyond the scope of an environmental review.

"This is a single-family subdivision," Bonsignore said. "Whether it is financed publicly or privately is not an environmental issue and should be of no concern to the board."

Because a previous scoping document was completed, Bonsignore said, the only two areas of further review -- noted as an area of concern in the previous process -- are traffic and the extension of Violet Lane. Any other subjects, he said, were out of bounds.

Attorney Kevin Earl, representing the planning board, disagreed with Bonsignore.

"(In reviewing the law) I didn't see anything in scoping that limited it just to areas that are checked as significant concerns," Earl said. "It's up to the board to say what they want in the scoping document. I can't see a court overturning a review because the board wanted to review too much."

After Bonsignore pressed the point again that the board can only review the two issues, Town Engineer Steve Mountain spoke up.

"If that were indeed true, then there wouldn’t be any need to have a public scoping process," Mountain said. "If it’s already set in stone, then why do the regulations require a public process?"

Jasinski made it clear the board is going to expect a fully completed scoping document with all of its concerns addressed.

"It's been the practice of this planning board to take a good hard look at SEQRA issues," Jasinski said. "We intend to have all of our questions answered and we want to get public input. We intend to put the two scoping documents together and come up with our final scoping document."

Top photo, attorney James Bonsignore. Bottom photo, resident Ron Penepent, speaking.

Penepent questioned taxpayer money being used to fund the project and what will be done with the money. Another resident noted that 19 homes priced at $150,000 each doesn't equal $6 million in cost.

Other residents said they have contacted their state and federal representatives about the use of taxpayer money on a project that is seemingly not needed, but haven't gotten much of a response.

One lady said she's written to both Assemblyman Steve Hawley and State Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer and received back form letters referring her to the town planning board as the proper place to raise her concerns.

September 20, 2011 - 5:56pm

Week 2's winner: Tom Guentner, who was among six entrants who correctly picked
Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati, as the tight end with the most reception yards.

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