Erie County District Attorney, Frank Clark, on Wednesday moved to transfer jurisdiction of the racial harassment and coercion case against County Legislator, Gregory B. Olma (D-Buffalo) from city court to a grand jury.
The transfer, Clark said, is “routine,” since a grand jury can compel testimony from witnesses, some of whom might otherwise be uncooperative.
“There are widely disputed versions of what happened that night (when Olma was arrested),” said Clark. “By using a grand jury we can compel people to testify and find out the truth.”
In order to transfer jurisdiction, Olma’s previous nine misdemeanor counts of harassment, coercion, and resisting arrest, arising out of a primary 2000 incident, involving Olma and two black election officials, were dismissed in city court.
Assistant DA, John Doscher, will be presenting evidence to the grand jury. Doscher also investigated Olma for misappropriation of funds at the Broadway Market earlier this year.
Clark said the grand jury will also investigate if other charges, including those arising out of violations of state election law, might have occurred.
Olma’s alleged actions, which led police to charge him with coercion, “might be upgraded to a felony,” said Clark.
City court Judge, David Manz, before dismissing the charges, ordered Olma to stay away from the two women, Karen Gregory, and Adrea Newbern, who he has been accused of harassing until the grand jury finishes its investigation. The grand jury is expected to convene in about 3 weeks.
While leaving court, the normally outspoken and defiant Olma refused comment. Olma’s attorney, Leigh Anderson, told reporters, “We have absolutely no comment concerning this matter until the case is ended.”
DA PROMISES FULL INVESTIGATION
Asked if this case might be quietly dismissed in the interest of what some might call “back door politics,” Clark said that every person known to be at the polling place when the incident occurred would be called to testify before the grand jury. Clark said he was confident his office would uncover the truth of this alleged and racially divisive incident that centers around whether Olma threatened and intimidated Gregory and Newbern while calling them “n-- bitches” and grabbed election results out of their hands.
Also alleged is that, later, when Police arrived Olma was drunk and belligerent, and police were forced to subdue him. Police charged him with resisting arrest.
Olma denies any of the events occurred. He insists his accusers fabricated the entire story and that police officials falsified reports about his being uncooperative.
GODZISZ CALLS FOR DRUG TEST OF OLMA
Steve Godzisz, Olma’s long time political foe, is calling on Olma, who claims he was not drunk the night of the alleged incident, to submit to both a drug test and a polygraph.
Referring to widely aired videos, shown on all three local TV news stations, that feature an apparently disoriented Olma running away from TV photographers, Godzisz said, “If you look at the film of Olma, and see that glazed look in his eyes, well, if he’s not drunk, as he says he wasn’t, then was he high on some kind of drugs? A drug test might determine if he has a more serious problem.”
PROTEST BROUGHT BLACKS AND WHITES TOGETHER
Meanwhile, in spite of heightened tensions in the community, and in part to allay these, both white and black activists and local politicians came together Monday, September 18, for a show of unity and to proclaim that the type of racial slurs that Olma is alleged to have uttered is not representative or acceptable to the community at large.
Carrying signs that read, “Zero tolerance for racism,” “Olma step down,” and “Harmony and peace and not dissension,” one by one people addressed the crowd of more than 100 in front of the Adam Mickieiwcz library, the scene of the alleged incident, and directly across the street from Olma’s residence at 615 Fillmore avenue.
Among the speakers was Rick Gatone, a local activist, who attacked Olma’s past politics.
“He has to go.” he said. “This community cannot put up with racism. This will not be tolerated in Buffalo.”
Rosa Gibson said that the community must remain committed to ousting Olma. “(We must) make sure we don’t stop until we get him out of office,” she said.
Council member at large Beverly Gray, who has been an outspoken critic of Olma, said she has long been aware of Olma’s racist sentiments.
“Greg Olma did (that night) what he usually does. He just got caught.”
The speakers continued to speak against racism, and the new, local symbol of it, Olma, to loud and frequent applause, and were introduced, in turn, by Bob Brown, legislative assistant to Fillmore Council member, Karen Ellington, who also spoke out against Olma.
Many Polish Americans were in the audience and were obviously supportive of Ellington’s efforts.
Frank Messiah, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, has worked to publicize this case and prevent Olma from using the power of his office to intimidate the two witnesses even at the risk of putting himself in the line of political and mainstream media fire.
At the rally, Messiah said, “Racism has to be met head on, and not by running one or two feel good programs.”
THE MEDIA WAS IN FULL ATTENDANCE
The meeting, which lasted for over an hour, was attended by representatives from the Criterion, plus all three TV stations, the Buffalo News, Cheektowaga Times, Alt Press, Art Voice, the Challenger, and the Illuzzi letter, and showed the media, and the public, that blacks and whites can come together and work for racial harmony.
Ricky Donovan, city chairman of the Independence Party, called upon Olma to resign his position and declared that the Independence party, a small, but often pivotal line that politicians covet in close elections, would not endorse Olma again for any office. Donovan called upon G. Steven Pigeon, chairman of the Democratic party, and Bob Davis, chairman of the Republican party, to do the same.
Pigeon, meanwhile, announced that he thought Olma should resign from the county legislature. Olma, a four term legislator, represents parts of the Broadway Fillmore area, Lovejoy and Cheektowaga.
A number of clergymen were also in attendance at the rally, and prayers were said, and people both white and black greeted each other with the hope as one sign read to “help and not fight.” One reporter commented that the event, in and of itself, was “beautiful, wonderful.”
For people had come together to address a wrong - racism, and, in spite of the fact that Olma has long been perceived as a racist in the community, some were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and focus on the concept of eradicating racism - quite often nameless and faceless - but almost always pervasive.
“OLMA MUST RESIGN IF GUILTY”
Almost all people interviewed by the Criterion said that Olma was entitled to a presumption of innocence, something that Olma himself rarely affords those he attacks. All said that if Olma is found guilty, he should step down from office. And all who were questioned admitted that whether or not Olma actually uttered the racist epithets he has been accused of, the city itself is still rife with racist sentiment and that has to be weeded out.
“This racism cannot be tolerated in our community any longer,” Reverend Gregory Washington told the crowd. “Racism rears its ugly head at such a high level politically that it has trickled down throughout the economic structure of our city. If you cannot tolerate the color of my skin you cannot tolerate the color of my money!”
As it stand now, possibly no one other than the three people actually involved in the incident know whether Olma is guilty or not. Yet there seems to be solid support throughout the community that if Olma is found guilty, his days as a legislator are numbered.
The Am Pol Eagle, the local Polish paper, in an editorial this week, wrote ”Anyone reading the police report of the allegations against (Olma) would be shocked. It comes off the pages like a terrifying scene from a time America would rather forget- a time of bigotry and intimidation..... if Mr. Olma is found guilty - there is only one recourse- Mr. Olma must resign.