Tag Archives: Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard

The Intersection of Taxation and Competent Government

20 May

The image above reflects the two top stories this morning on WGRZ.com. More disappointingly, it reflects two epic failures at the hands of the county government. In the first, the Department of Social Services went out to investigate a literal house of horrors, but only conducted interviews with the perpetrators outside the home, believing them to not be allowed inside unless consent was given. That’s not true, and as a result of the lackadaisical “investigation”, the true nature of Laura Cummings’ living conditions was never revealed. Until she had been killed by her mother and brother, that is.

The second story? It has almost become an annual tradition for the state Commission of Correction to remind Sheriff Tim Howard that he is an utter and absolute failure at managing and operating the county jail system.

The Ralph “Bucky” Philips escape led to a months-long manhunt and two dead State Troopers. Incarcerated alleged rapist Rasheed Milton was mistakenly released, and Milton almost immediately raped another innocent woman. Now we have yet another embarrassment – an inmate labeled an escape risk, Brian Collins, escaped from his cell after disabling the lock (no one checked or noticed), grabbed an unattended two-way radio, used a phone to get deputies to open up the door to his block (they never checked his identity), and ultimately made his way onto the roof of the holding center where he pranced around for some time. In all, Mr. Collins was unaccounted-for for several hours.

The state investigated, and the report gives new meaning to the term “scathing”. It lays the blame for Collins’ escape firmly on Sheriff Howard for failing to properly train and manage his staff. Calling the escape the result of “gross negligence and incompetence”, the state commission added that the escape,

was a direct consequence of the failure of the Erie County Sheriff and his senior managers to implement and follow fundamental correctional and custody practices in accordance with New York State rules and regulations

Howard and his patronage hires are doing what they always do when reminded of their incompetence. They deflect and whine. Howard shunts the blame to individual deputies – firing them and reprimanding them, completely missing the point of the report and of basic leadership. Nothing changes policy-wise; just fire the underlings and carry on. Then they whine about “vicious political attacks”.

The problem here is that their whining might be persuasive if this was the first such event. But this is (at minimum) the third. You don’t have three epic escape failures resulting in death and rape and get to chalk it up to politics.

It’s come time for Sheriff Tim Howard to resign. And it’s time for Chris Collins to do the right thing and join the call for him to go. The time to set up citizens’ commissions to oversee that which is already overseen has come and gone. This has become a pattern, and it’s unacceptable and unsustainable.

Because note the two stories above freshly reveal that county government doesn’t merely exist to sleepwalk its way through a day where the chief concern is lower taxes. That’s where the Collins Administration has focused all of its efforts – on the middle class suburbanites who don’t interact much with DSS or the jails. Collins banks on these people not much caring whether the jails are secure or DSS prevents the murder of young girls in rural hellhouses. They worry about their taxes, so Collins makes sure to remind his only constituents that he, too, cares about their taxes. (Note: The Erie County property tax rate is among the lowest in the state. We also pay sales tax, various fees, and school taxes, however).

So it would be phenomenal if the focus in the county administration would shift a few centimeters from being only taxpayer-centric to also including a bit of consistency and competence. Yes, my taxes are too high, but for the time being I’m still paying them. My expectation in doing so is that my tax money will be used intelligently and competently. Six Sigma seems to be in practice almost as useless as CitiStat.

Oftentimes, doing it right is more important than doing it cheaply.

Erie County Jails, The Saga Continues

18 May

After a two year long debate about the rash of suicides at the Erie County jails, the lawsuits from the federal government, multiple escapes, a rapist being let free on accident, the failure to follow basic guidelines for prisoner safety and treatment, the willful mismanagement of the organization by an unaccountable and incompetent Sheriff and the legal shenanigans of the Erie County Attorney, the Erie County Legislature is ready to tackle the problem.

With a citizen’s advisory panel.  Well, dueling proposals for a citizen’s advisory panel.

The first proposal was sponsored by Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Christina Bove and co-sponsored by Legislators Kozub, Miller-Williams, Dixon, Mills and Kennedy.  It is Local Law 4-1 (2010), here’s a summary:

It is the intent of the Legislature to establish the Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board (the “Advisory Board” or the “Board”) for the purpose of reviewing the corrections facilities programs and services to offer suggestions and advice for the improvement of such programs; and further to allow an additional forum for public comment with regards to matters at the Erie County Correctional Facility and the Erie County Holding Center.

An Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board shall be created consisting of nine (9) members.

The Advisory Board shall have seven voting members appointed as follows, one each by the Chair of the Erie County Legislature, Majority Leader, Minority Leader, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Erie County Executive, Chief Judge of the Buffalo City Court and Senior County Judge for Erie County. The Advisory Board will also have two Non-Voting Members. The Advisory Board shall also have two ex-officio non-voting members appointed by the Erie County Attorney and Erie County Sheriff.

The Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board functions in an advisory capacity to the Erie County Legislature as well as to the Sheriff and the Administration of Erie County. They may undertake functions and activities intended to provide advice and suggestions to improve programs and functions, allow public comment, make formal recommendations to the County Legislature and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office on programs and services, recommend funding for the Correctional Facilities in Erie County and receive complaints from the public and refer such complaints to the proper official in the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for investigation and report back to the Advisory Board.

The second proposal was sponsored by Majority Leader Maria Whyte and co-sponsored by Legislators Grant, Mazur, Kozub, Loughran and Marinelli.  Here’s a summary:

RESOLVED, that the Erie County Legislature, per authority granted to it by County Charter, Section 2305, “to better fulfill the purposes responsibilities and goals of each department of the county,” create a Citizens’ Advisory Board for the Holding Center and Correctional Facility; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Citizens’ Advisory Board shall consist of 15 members, with one member designated by each of the following: the County Executive, the County Legislature (by a nominating petition containing the signatures of a simple majority of Legislators), the County Sheriff, Teamster’s Local 264 (union that represents Sheriff’s deputies), CSEA (union that represents corrections’ officers and janitorial staff), Network of Religious Communities, Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition, Prisoners are People Too, Coalition for Economic Justice, Legal Aid Bureau, Erie County Medical Society, National Alliance on Mental Illness, University at Buffalo Law School Human Rights Center, NAACP, and Hispanics United of Buffalo.

The debate during a public hearing yesterday was robust and demonstrated (yet again) the fault lines across the Erie County Democratic Party.

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Aside from the size and makeup of the committees, they are essentially serving the same purposes as outlined by state law.  This isn’t an issue of funding, or expense or any of the common objections, it’s about which voices are feeding back into the system.  Under Bove’s proposed law, the board will essentially consist of the typical politicized voices found in county government, friends and patronage hangers-on (even though it’s unpaid).  Whyte’s proposal reaches further into the community to align a more diverse array of voices, including those who work on behalf of prisoners and their families.

However, is an advisory panel even necessary? Legislator Ray Walter doesn’t think so, “Considering the State Commission of Correction already has oversight of the county’s correctional facilities, it seems redundant to me.” His opinion was shared by Legislator Hardwick, “I don’t favor either of the competing proposals at this time. I’d prefer to wait for the federal and state governments to complete their investigations before we move on the creation of another advisory board.”

It’s clear that the problems in Erie County Correctional Facilities currently exceed the capabilities of the Erie County Sheriff, but enacting an oversight authority which lacks subpoena power might not be the best step.   Isn’t the legislature technically the “advisory panel” for oversight of the correctional facilities?

If they are, the desire to establish an unpaid advisory board is a tacit admission from the legislature that the problems exceed their grasp. If all factions of the majority agree that an advisory panel is necessary to manage the correctional facilities, should we not focus on building a panel which includes experts on the subject matter as well as the community writ large? Isn’t it pointless to staff the panel with politically connected friends and party apparatchiks?

Legislator Whyte, “The Advisory Board which we have called for would allow mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and other human rights organizations to make recommendations to lawmakers regarding jail practices and policies. Currently, other Legislators have introduced a disappointing Local Law also calling for an Advisory Board. Both the composition of this Board and its oversight powers are problematic and, in my opinion, are like a fox guarding the chicken coop. This Local Law (proposed by Legislator Bove) is NOT meaningful reform.

There will be a public hearing on the local law in the Erie County Legislature chambers (Old County Hall, 92 Franklin Street, 4th Floor) today at 5PM.

The Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition will be holding a public forum in the Erie County Legislature Conference Room (Old County Hall, 92 Franklin Street, 4th Floor) at 3:30PM prior to the public hearing.

Collins vs. Howard, PolitiFAIL 2010, Elite Eight

30 Mar

It’s a battle between an indolent and incompetent county sheriff and an arrogant plutocrat who has ascended to the position of Erie County Executive.

This should be entertaining.

Both are evidence of a shift in our local politics and their failure transcends the simple day-to-day numbskullery and duplicitous deviance that we encounter on a daily basis in our local politics.

Collins has only been in power for eighteen months, but he is racking up a FAIL resume that is impressive in its breadth while Howard is on to his second term of constant and documented epic unaccountable failure.  One might say this is a showdown between Boss Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane.

Let’s start with Chris Collins and we’ll pull from some of the different articles written about him on WNYMedia in the 18 months since his election.  First up, Alan’s profile of Collins from January:

Chris Collins: The current Erie County Executive, and another in a long line of Republican chief executives – interrupted by only one Democrat, Dennis Gorski, from 1988 – 1999. Collins is the CEO of several local closely-held companies, and specializes in taking failing businesses and turning them around. He campaigned on a pledge to do the same thing for Erie County, pledging to run it like a business and to institute cost savings, rational use of resources, and fiscal responsibility through the use of  Lean Six Sigma. Although he pledged not to become a “chief politician”, his critics have noted that he has become exactly that, brokering political backroom deals and quids pro quos in order to ease his agenda through with minimal opposition and oversight. Biggest governmental success so far has been the reversion of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority to advisory status.

Up next, we’ll go to Colin’s preview from yesterday:

You know Collins’ record by now: behaving like the new George Wallace and standing in the doorway of the Erie County Holding Center, cutting county support for nutrition programs for children and pregnant women, and generally acting like a chauvinist ass.  He’s a real piece of shit.

Colin is direct, impolitic, but spot-on.

And finally from Alan’s first round preview:

Collins was elected Erie County Executive in 2007, pledging to run county government “like a business”.  The centerpiece of his plan was to implement “Six Sigma Lean” manufacturing process concepts to the delivery and management of county government services.  Administering a $1.1BN county budget, about 80% of which is dedicated to state mandates, Collins came into office while the county was operating under a hard control board, and with a flourish promised to accept only $1 per month in salary until such time as the control board switched to advisory status, which it did in early 2009.

But all of the businesses Collins ever ran were closely-held entities over which he always had the final word and more or less complete control.  His efforts to run county government closely follow that same model – far more confrontational and micromanaging than cooperative and trusting.  His administration has been heavy-handed in its dealings with anyone it perceives to be an enemy or threat, and he has taken a page from the Byron Brown playbook, running candidates against that enemies list.  In 2009, he won some and lost some.  Collins ran as a non-politician, but he’s a quick learner and has become quite the transactional actor, relying on principle only when absolutely necessary.  His administration’s mishandling of the Erie County Jails issue is inexplicable and dangerous.  Although he claims that Six Sigma has been a success, there is little evidence presented.  His decisions often pit wealthier suburbs against poorer city – for instance, his decision to get the county out of the WIC and health clinic businesses – both of which were funded fully by the federal government.  His excuse?  They were non-mandated services, and the county was still on the hook for legacy costs.  Yet the county also administers golf courses, which are non-mandated services operated by county workers with legacy costs, but the county remains in the golf course business.  His arrogance is matched by his wealth and dictatorial attitude, and his public pronouncements are mere parroting of talking points that have become tired cliches.

What Chris Collins fundamentally represents in this region is the new guard.  He is a nouveau riche entrepreneur infiltrating the old guard of Buffalo’s elite and filling board slots and patronage positions with members of the Amherst/Clarence business class.  A guy from the outer ring suburbs who doesn’t demonstrate loyalty to the urban core in policy decisions and wants to change the way we approach public policy and regional decisions.

Is it a good thing?  We’re certainly going to find out.

Sheriff Tim Howard

As for Sheriff Howard, what more can I add that hasn’t already been covered here?  Well, maybe I can wrap some context around that summary of misery and incompetence.  We have been the leading biographers of the Sheriff Howard era and we have carefully documented every piece of FAIL since Day One.  He is a disaster of elected proportions.  There is no way that this man, with this record should have been re-elected in 2009.

This point speaks to what I highlighted in the other matchup thread of the day, our inability or unwillingness to hold elected officials accountable.  Howard was able to win re-election last year by making the election about his opponent rather than his own record.  Captain John Glascott of the Cheektowaga Police Department was, by all measure, a good man with the qualifications to be Sheriff of Erie County.  As far as I’m concerned, as long as he hadn’t let a prisoner escape (after receiving reports on how to prevent said escape), he was eminently more qualified than Howard to fill the position.

Howard was able to distract from his failures and play upon the idea that prisoners aren’t staying at the Holiday Inn, they’re criminals, after all.  However, we’re talking about fundamental  violations of human rights and reckless abuse of the public trust.

We paid more attention to the talking points and the shiny baubles of superficiality than we did the fundamental issues, and we hose unwisely.  Since being re-elected, suicides in our jails are rampant, lawsuits are piling up and millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to defend against those lawsuits and prep the prisons for inspection.

We need to be smarter.

Wait, there is one more recent development we can add to the Sheriff’s impressive FAIL portfolio. In Sunday’s Buffalo News, we learned of the Sheriff’s crafty end-around on county limits on overtime pay in order to line the pockets of his appointees – “lineup pay”

Secretaries, special assistants, accountants and even top administrators already given cars and six-figure salaries can charge a half hour of overtime each day — not necessarily because the workload demands more of their time but because the system lets them. Because of an arbitrator’s decision last decade, both union and non-union employees can collect lineup pay even when on vacation. The income ratchets up their pension payments when they retire.

County Executive Collins, right, and Sheriff Tim Howard, left, compare beverages for Howard's next fundraiser

The article mentions that CE Collins “hopes” that Howard limits his lineup pay scheme….just like Boss Hogg used to “hope” Rosco P. Coltrane would ease up on setting up those illegal speed traps and pop-up hospital zone signs in an effort to get those Duke boys. Kew-kew-kew!

Sheriff Coltrane explains that he merely wants to reward “the best and brightest in management-confidential positions” – you know, the ultra-achievers who have turned the county’s department into a statewide (and national) laughingstock and one on which the Justice Department is training its sights to arrest (and, hopefully, correct) the multitude of abuses, neglect and utter incompetence in running a county sheriff’s department.

I can’t resist one more item….have you seen the Sheriff’s Message page on the EC Sheriff’s Office site? You would assume that it would be similar to most government official welcome messages – bland, benign, positive. Not ol’ Sheriff Timmy, though….check out the first line of his “welcome” message:

“The Erie County jails have five times that national rate for suicide as others”. That’s a memorable sound bite. But that is all it is- other than it being completely and utterly FALSE.

That’s not a welcome message from a high-ranking county official – that’s a blog comment from an unhinged crank. Complete with CAPS SO YOU KNOW HE’S SERIOUS, DAMN YOU!

Sheriff Tim Howard is treating this tournament like it was just booked into his Holding Center, he might pull an upset over Boss Hogg.

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PolitiFAIL Tourney Results, Sweet Sixteen

30 Mar

We have now reached the Epic Elite Eight of FAIL.  It was a fun round with some of the best matchup previews to date.  A reminder, the winner of the WNY PolitiFAIL Tournament will be announced at a press conference in front of the Rusted Hulk of Invisible Casino FAIL on Fulton Street in Downtown Buffalo at 5PM on April Fool’s Day.  I hope you’ll be able to join us, we’ll be streaming it live on the site and we’ll invite the winner to receive our FAIL Trophy.

Let’s revisit the day in FAIL.

Joe Illuzzi vs. Andrew Rudnick

This contest was much closer than originally predicted.  In the matchup thread, Illuzzi was compared to both Omar Little and a used condom.  I employed every tactic and insult I had in my quiver to establish a resume of FAIL that would get Mr. Illuzzi past the Bow-Tied Boss of Business Bologna, Andrew Rudnick and into the Elite Eight.  However, the voters rewarded Rudnick’s  seeming lack of accomplishments, high salary and inability to attract women with his feral scent of failure by sending him forward in this tournament with a victory of 204-182.

Byron Brown vs. Mickey Kearns

A rematch of Mayorpaloozer 2009 with Brown once again besting Kearns in a rout.  I thought this contest might be closer than the shellacking Kearns received at the polls last November, but it is pretty clear that the Mayor has no friends among the readership of WNYMedia.  We had expected that a last minute blast of campaign cash from Carl Paladino to help get Mickey over the hump, but he failed to organize his campaign and fell flat on his face, again.  When asked for comment on his victory, the Mayor said, “Ummm, ahhh, ummm, victory in this contest, ummm, ahh”

Dale Volker vs. George Maziarz

This was a clash of FAIL heavyweights.  Two of the most senior members of the FAIL delegation facing off in an epic battle of weak prostates and frivolous mailers to voters.  In the end, Volker’s resume of FAIL, lack of distinguished legislative record, general arrogance and general dickishness carried the day by a margin of 262-198.  Volker can credit his victory to Pundit’s epic matchup preview, which will serve as his magnum opus to local political failure.  Maziarz was last seen hightailing it back to Albany where he can be found spooning up with downstate interests, union insiders and other toxic assets.

The WNY Voter vs. Steve Pigeon

This was a showdown between the citizenry of WNY, who each year shuffle to the polls like labotomized minions of the monied insider club of local politics and the king of inside political baseball, Steve Pigeon.  The WNY voters shook off their thorazine induced shuffle to yank Pigeon from his closet and spank him in the light of day.  The voters rout Mr. Pigeon to move on to the next round after winning by  margin of 296-178.

Antoine Thompson vs. Bill Stachowski

Antoine routed in this one, primarily because most people in the area don’t know who the fuck Bill Stachowski is.  Thompson’s ratio of FAIL/Tenure seems to have struck a chord with the voting audience, 281-167.

Tim Howard vs. Lynn Marinelli

I’m getting tired…Rosco P. Coltrane took it to the high priestess of parliamentary procedures, 271-114.

Chris Collins vs. Barbara Miller-Williams

This wasn’t even close.  It was rumored that BMW tried to buy off voters with the proceeds from her three pensions, but Collins’ Six Sigma’d his way to victory, 311-98.

Steve Casey vs. Bonnie Russell

Casey in a cakewalk over a common councilwoman who few know of and less care about.  She snuck through the early rounds due to weak matchups and once faced with a quality opponent, shrunk faster than Casey’s manhood in a cold pool.  Casey wins 161-72.

Our elite eight matchups are as follows:

City Bracket:

Byron Brown vs. Steve Casey or as others are referring to it, Willie Tyler versus Lester.

State Bracket:

Dale Volker vs. Antoine Thompson

County Bracket:

Chris “Boss Hogg” Collins vs. Tim “Rosco P. Coltrane” Howard

Other Bracket:

The WNY Voter vs. Andrew Rudnick

Matchup previews will be published through the course of the day, stay tuned and keep voting!

Top Ten Uses for the Sheriff’s Red Chopper

16 Mar

Other uses for the Sheriff’s shiny red helicopter:

10. Rescuing kittens from trees
9. Breaking up street fights
8. Crowd control before and after Sabres games
7. Cooling people down on very hot days
6. Building it to the curb
5. Going to Texarkana and coming back with cases of Coors in just 24 hours- Eastbound & down.
4. Getting Chris Collins in touch with the people
3. Best McDonald’s run ever
2. Getting the kids from ballet to swimming
1. Burning that sweet, sweet fuel

Minimum Standards Unmet

11 Mar

You may recall this post that Marc Odien wrote the other day in response to repeated claims being made by the county administration that its jail system lives up to – or exceeds – minimum state standards.

But the state has taken issue with the county’s claims, and ordered the county to take corrective action in March 2009, claiming that conditions at the jail were unsanitary, unhygienic, and otherwise substandard. The county balked, and the state Commission of Corrections took the county to court.

And won.

So far, the anti-agenda, anti-status quo folks have lost every time they try. Tim Howard? In 2006, the state concluded that Ralph “Bucky” Phillips’ escape (and subsequent cop-killing) was thanks to the Alden Correctional Facility not meeting the state’s minimum standards.

This is getting to be a habit.

The Sheriff was trying to cut corners by classifying different prisoners in the county jail differently. For instance, if you get popped for disorderly conduct in Hamburg, you might get kept in a lock-up until the first available arraignment time. That’s usually a very short time frame measured in hours, not days. Town lock-ups that detain people pre-arraignment are not considered “jails”. The jails, however, are considered jails. A 2002 law permits towns to ship inmates awaiting arraignment to the county jail.

Sheriff Howard wanted to treat pre-arraignment detainees differently from post-arraignment detainees who are held for longer periods awaiting trial.

All this over toilet paper and toothbrushes.

Erie County Jails: Wins & Losses

10 Mar

You won’t read this anywhere else, because…well, I don’t know why.  I think it’s somewhat important because it was a major issue during 2009 and the recent Sheriff’s campaign.

Marc Odien explains that the Commission of Corrections won a court battle to ensure that inmates get assessed for safety risks, get hygenic supplies, and have clean bedding.  Guantanamo Tim loses one.

The Sheriff’s department is desperately trying to look decisive and ethical by firing the deputies who illegally beat the crap out of a detainee and lied about it.  Beating the crap out of a detainee, of course, is just another word for torture.  It’s also not the first such allegation, and calls into question the veracity of all of this “suicide” talk.

I picture federal DOJ interviews of county officials being not unlike the Monty Python Parrot Sketch.  “They’re not dead, they’re resting”.

But while we have inmate after inmate end up pining for the fjords, the state action is based on the premise that the jails are not up to the minimum standards the state requires, quite contrary to what the county is saying.  This is such a failure of leadership, but the Boss Hogg-esque Collins administration and our own Rosco P. Coltrane get away with it because the people of Hazzard Erie County for the most part don’t have contact with the prisons and don’t really care if people behind bars are treated humanely or inhumanely.

Until it’s their neighbor or family member.

Deep Thought

9 Mar

How soon before we always surround the word “suicide” with quotation marks when referring to the Erie County jail system?

Suicides, Schmuicides

9 Mar

County Executive Chris Collins explains why he doesn’t want the United States Department of Justice to investigate allegations of shoddy conditions, brutality, and negligence at Erie County jails:

…he has no faith in the Department of Justice based on its lawsuit against the county, accusing it of shoddy jail operations and inability to curb inmate suicides.

“We don’t trust them. There’s a lot of hearsay in their complaint,” Collins said, explaining that Justice Department personnel could fabricate or exaggerate statements taken from individuals who are interviewed.

“In the law, we want to make sure allegations aren’t exaggerated and are true. This is due process. Let’s face it, a person asking the questions can put words in the mouth. If we can’t review it, you’re going to get biased information,” he said.

Collins said holding center personnel are working hard to prevent suicides.

Well, not by keeping an eye on high-risk inmates or taking away objects with which they can hang themselves or anything. The whole “I don’t trust the DOJ” meme is like something out of the Jim Crow South. It translates into: “I don’t want anyone keeping an eye on what I’m up to. Also, agenda and status quo.”

“We do believe the jail is doing everything it can and at the end of the day, you can’t stop someone from killing himself,” Collins said.

Of course you can. Absolutely you can. If you care to. If you make an effort, take it seriously, and prioritize it.

Chris Collins and Tim Howard are concerned about saving face, but little else. After all, wealthier suburbanites who have little contact with the jail system are their political base. Howard and Collins can completely ignore the issue and not suffer politically in any way.

Meanwhile, however, people are dying.

Outrageous Agendas and Statusquoisms

7 Mar

Clearly, the federal court has an agenda to maintain the status quo and prevent the county administration from protecting the taxpayers of Erie County.

The judge status-quoedly ruled that a Justice Department inspection of the county jails is reasonable and not overly burdensome. The Justice Department would like to conduct the inspection because it has a clear “anti-taxpayer agenda” – which is pronounced “suicide rate that is 5 times higher than the national average.”

Outrageous how Chris Collins and Tim Howard can’t just do (or not do) whatever they want, however they want, with impunity. Also, Tim Howard notes that the three recent suicides all had a heroin addiction. Setting aside whether he had the right to disclose that health information the way he did, wouldn’t that have maybe clued his department in to the need to keep a close eye on suicides two and/or three?