Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah Nolan is fighting to get his reputation back after being fired and charged last year of stealing a $20 gun magazine pouch at work.
He was acquitted late last year, but the incident has had negative consequences that he can’t shake off.
For example, he has night terrors and suffers with paranoia. He wakes up disoriented and sometimes has chest pains and trouble breathing.
In September, Nolan and his wife Sandra, of Cheektowaga, filed a civil lawsuit against the county, the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Timothy Howard and three members of his administration, for wrongful termination, defamation, harassment and civil rights violations, among other complaints.
William Lorenz Jr., the couple’s attorney, told News 4 Investigates that Jeremiah Nolan had a target on his back because of his reputation as a whistleblower.
“That all came to a head in May of 2018 when he was on the ninth floor of ECMC in their lockup room,” Lorenz said.
“And he discovered a magazine pouch worth about $20 that was not in the place it was supposed to be. Mr. Nolan had found a note that said to place this magazine pouch in one of the locked gun boxes. Mr. Nolan was unable to do that because the box was locked, so he left the pouch on top of the gun box.”
News 4 Investigates was shown the surveillance footage of the lockup room on the day Nolan was working. Although the video does not fully exonerate Nolan – there are moments in which Nolan moved off camera- the footage certainly doesn’t show he stole anything.
Yet, somehow, the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office determined there was enough evidence to charge Nolan with petit larceny, a misdemeanor punishable of up to a year in jail.
District Attorney John Flynn, Sheriff Howard and the administration of County Executive Mark Poloncarz all refused to comment. Nolan’s criminal case is now sealed because he was acquitted.
The lawsuit accuses the sheriff’s office of taking unusual steps to punish Nolan.
For example, he was ordered to “home confinement” for almost a week in June last year while the sheriff’s office investigated. Nolan was not allowed to leave his home during his work shift hours of 3 to 11 p.m.
“The fact that they went after him so vigorously and locked him in his own home for close to a week, the psychological effects of that are very difficult to comprehend for someone who hasn’t been in that situation,” Lorenz said.
In addition, the Nolans specifically accuse Sheriff Howard of defamation for a rare public statement he made, which wrongly criticized the deputy for stealing a loaded gun magazine, not just a pouch. That press release remains on the county sheriff’s website despite it being incorrect.
Lorenz described Nolan’s arrest as a “colossal misunderstanding” that could have been avoided if they had just listened to Nolan’s side of the story.
So, what is Nolan’s side of the story?
On May 27, 2018, Nolan was working on the ninth floor of ECMC.
Surveillance footage of the room he worked in that day shows him finding a magazine pouch in a desk drawer. Nolan, who moves off and on camera at various times, said he placed the pouch on top of a locked gun box.
“The camera does not show Deputy Nolan the entire time,” Lorenz said.
“There’s a point where he’s out of view of the camera and I believe there is where the department was able to embellish the accusations based on Deputy Nolan not being on camera.”
On June 2, 2018, Nolan’s union representative informed him that he had been accused of stealing a loaded ammunition magazine, not just the pouch, from the office. Nolan denied stealing anything.
On June 8, 2018, he met with Captain Jeffrey Hartman of the Jail Management Division. Nolan was given the option of either resigning or facing criminal charges. He refused to resign.
Lorenz said that Nolan that day also found the gun pouch on the floor behind a cabinet. He showed superiors the gun pouch, which he said must have fallen off the gun box onto the floor behind the cabinet. But Lorenz said Nolan’s attempts to explain the circumstances were futile.
That same day, Nolan got a letter from Superintendent Thomas Diina and Hartman informing him that he was on administrative leave without pay. He said the sheriff’s office also confined him to his home during from June 8 through June 14.
On June 22, 2018, Nolan was terminated.
Four days later, on June 26, 2018, the sheriff’s office charged Nolan with petit larceny and released a public statement that included a rare remark from Sheriff Howard: “I cannot understand how a sworn officer could take another officer’s lifeline—the magazines for his duty gun. It was evident that his misconduct warranted his termination.”
On Dec. 17, 2018, Nolan was acquitted. The sheriff’s office agreed to immediately accept him back to work.
But Nolan was still distraught over the debacle. He used sick leave through March before returning to work.
When he returned, Nolan’s lawsuit states he was met with hostility and harassment from superiors and other colleagues.
For example, court records accuse the sheriff’s administration of forcing Nolan to work a double shift in March that ran contrary to overtime restrictions and was told that he “burnt too many bridges around here.”
Nolan also accused the administration of not letting him take bathroom breaks.
The lawsuit states that the “stress of the negative publicity, termination, hostility and retaliation by Defendants against Mr. Nolan” allegedly affected the Nolans profoundly.
Nolan’s night terrors are increasing in frequency, Lorenz said. He sometimes suffers from severe sweating and other symptoms one has from experiencing panic attacks. Lorenz said Nolan’s night terrors consist of work employees and his superiors harming him.
Attorneys for Erie County filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the statute of limitations has expired for some of the claims.
Meanwhile, Nolan remains out of work, but the sheriff’s office refused to provide any information about his employment status.
“While on face value the complaint against him was over a $20 magazine pouch, there was really a much more nefarious motive for going after him and terminating him from his job,” Lorenz said.