TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – Town of Tonawanda Police are hoping to set the record straight regarding the arrest this summer of a young Black man at a Speedway store.
Assistant Chief Nicholas Bado says while the officers involved met probable cause to arrest Eric Martin based on the information they had at the time, in an ongoing effort to learn, reform, and grow, the department is seeing how they could have handled this differently.
“These are things that we’re looking to learn from and grow from moving forward and educate our officers to lead more in a manner that is in a de-escalation mindset,” Bado said.
On July 9, Eric Martin’s family says he went to cash in a winning lottery ticket at the Speedway at 535 Kenmore Avenue. The store manager called police to say the lottery ticket he was trying to cash was stolen, apparently believing it to have been stolen in a smash-and-grab burglary at the same Speedway the night before.
Town of Tonawanda Police responded, arresting him and charging him with criminal possession of stolen property. In police body camera video, officers repeatedly ask Martin to voluntarily go with them in a patrol car to the police station for questioning. Martin repeats that he will not go with them. The exchange grows tenser until four officers get Martin on the ground and handcuff him. They also charged him with resisting arrest.
Martin’s family has publicly expressed outrage since this happened.
“As a father, to see that happen to my son – my son’s not a great kid, he’s a good kid. It’s just unreal,” Eric Martin Senior said about his son.
Days later, Tonawanda police say Speedway contacted their office to offer evidence that Martin legally purchased his ticket, and police quickly dropped the criminal charges against Martin. Police believe Speedway miscalculated its inventory from the burglary, incorrectly marking more lottery tickets as stolen than were actually taken.
Martin is still upset he was taken away in front of his kids.
“Mr. Martin was willing to drive to the police station. He didn’t want to get in the back of a police car,” said Martin’s attorney, John Feroleto, who said his client and his children have been hurt by this.
“He was uncomfortable with that, and I respect his feelings on that. So that’s when, again, I think there’s a lot of internal discussion over where we could have taken this, how the decision making came into play. What could we do better?” Assistant Chief Bado said.
Bado says two officers could face discipline for violating a coronavirus-related directive for the police chief, which advises officers not to take people into custody for alleged low-level crimes like the one this appeared to be. Bado said according to the departments collective bargaining agreement, discipline could range anywhere from a letter in the officers’ files to termination.
Bado also says this controversy has led to misinformation.
Martin’s father says his son was kicked, but Bado says that was a strategic tactic called the peroneal strike, which targets a nerve above the knee to loosen a person’s body and has no long-term lasting effects.
”We’re trying to better ourselves and our interactions with the public all the time, so this is really embarrassing for us to have a situation where misinformation, honestly, gets out makes a situation looks worse than it was,” Bado said. “I have empathy for what Eric Martin had to go through now knowing how it turned out, but some of the mis-characterizations from people who have rushed to judgement and used some hateful, provocative language, I don’t think that’s constructive, and that’s not who we are.”
Watch police body camera footage of the incident from beginning to end:
Assistant Chief Bado says the department has been working on reforming its policies and improving community outreach since late 2019, long before the nationwide calls from reform following the death of George Floyd. The Town of Tonawanda Police Department already has a contracted legal team, working with them on overhauling their manual with new policing policies.
Now, Martin’s supporters are protesting Speedway and turning attention there, because they believe the store manager profiled Martin.
“We’re going to continue to come back until this store manager is removed,” said Charley H. Fisher III, a long time civil rights advocate and president of B.U.I.L.D. of Buffalo, Inc.
“We want an investigation. We want the DA and town to investigate this, not just to simply say that Eric Martin was innocent, we want an investigation into this store’s operations,” Fisher said.
News 4 has reached out to Speedway’s parent company Marathon about these incidents three times since Thursday late afternoon and has yet to hear back.
Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.