New York AG: City of Tonawanda police chief ‘improperly arrested’ 2 teens without cause at Canal Fest

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The chief of the City of Tonawanda Police Department improperly arrested two teens without reasonable cause and used excessive force during the incident, according to a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office.

Chief Robert Clontz, who was a detective lieutenant at the time of the incident, displayed “poor decision-making,” committed multiple violations of law and policy and unnecessarily escalated a situation involving two brothers, aged 15 and 16, at Canal Fest on July 20, 2022, according to the report.

The report states the 16-year-old and 15-year-old, identified as Minor 1 and Minor 2, respectively, were stopped by officers at Canal Fest, with Minor 2 ordered to dismount the bicycle he was riding. They proceeded to cross the Renaissance Bridge into North Tonawanda, and were followed by Clontz, who eventually caught up with them.

Clontz pushed the 16-year-old and instructed the boys to keep moving, according to the report. Clontz then put his hand on Minor 1’s neck and told him he was under arrest, but the 16-year-old ducked and continued to walk before being grabbed again.

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The 15-year-old began recording the incident, and when a bystander asked if he could help, Clontz instructed him to put his arm around Minor 1’s neck, and the 16-year-old was then handcuffed after other officers arrived, per the report. Clontz then approached the 15-year-old and placed him in what appeared to be a chokehold, which the police chief said was a mixed martial arts move he had seen online, and held Minor 2 prone by the neck for about a minute.

Clontz claimed he was not attempting an illegal chokehold while arresting the 15-year-old, the report said.

Body camera screenshot of the arrest of Minor 2. (Photo: LEMIO)

Screenshot of Clontz and a bystander grabbing Minor 1’s neck. (Photo: LEMIO)

Minor 1 was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental
administration and harassment. Minor 2 was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct for unreasonable noise, disorderly conduct for
obscene language and harassment in the second degree. Minor 2 was originally facing weapons and robbery charges after a witness claimed the 15-year-old was reaching for Clontz’s weapon, but those were dropped after the witness explained he had not actually seen any attempt to reach for the gun.

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As a result of the report, the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office recommends that the City of Tonawanda Police Department:

Take appropriate disciplinary action against Clontz

Update its use of force policy so that it specifically prohibits any maneuver that would risk depriving the brain or blood or oxygen, such as chokeholds and neck restraints.

Provide police personnel with annual training of at least eight hours on the updated use of force policy, decision-making and de-escalation techniques.

Adopt a policy for officers on interacting with minors that makes it clear they cannot arrest minors under the age of 16 who aren’t committing a criminal offense.

News 4 WIVB reached out to the City of Tonawanda Police Department for comment on the report, but has yet to hear back.

You can view the full LEMIO report below:

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.

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