CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (AP) — Police Chief David Zack was ready to let the public hear what three school teachers talked about with a jailed teenage murder suspect during phone calls that the chief said should get the teachers fired.
But with a news conference scheduled Thursday, lawyers stepped in and threatened civil action, forcing Zack to keep the details secret for now.
"There are persons who do not want this information to be made public," the suburban Buffalo chief told reporters, saying he's even more determined to make the information known.
The Cheektowaga Central High School teachers received the calls at school last year from Dontre Jones, an 18-year-old student who was awaiting trial after being charged with second-degree murder in a 2011 shooting, Zack said.
The conversations, which were recorded, broke no laws but interfered with the police investigation and had the potential to affect Jones' trial, he said. The teachers' comments went beyond sentiments like "hang in there," he said, while declining to characterize them further.
School Superintendent Dennis Kane said he could not comment because the district is investigating the employees' conduct. The teachers, whose names have not been released, are on paid leave.
"This is the first time anything like this has ever happened and it's such a bizarre set of circumstances," Zack said. "This is one of those problems you can't imagine happening. It's that strange."
In June, Jones was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the death of 19-year-old Ira Watkins Jr. at Cheektowaga Town Park. He is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.
After listening to the conversations between Jones and the teachers, police took them to the Erie County District Attorney's Office, which ruled out criminal charges but decided the school district should hear what was said. District Attorney Frank Sedita III was out of the office and unavailable to comment Thursday.
Zack said it was apparent to him the teachers should be fired.
"The line wasn't brushed up against," he said. "It was crossed over."