WEST SENECA, NEW YORK – A former West Seneca police officer was sentenced in federal court Tuesday for exploding in anger and attacking a young man who made a crude remark in a tavern last year.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara sentenced Sean P. Kelley to the six months he has already served in jail since his arrest. He also put him on supervised release for a year, including six months of home confinement.
The judge also ordered Kelley to attend a three-week treatment program in Bradford, Pa., for people with anger-management and alcohol-abuse problems.
“We think it’s a fair sentence. Sean realizes he has very serious problems that he needs to deal with,” said attorney Rodney O. Personius, who represented Kelley with co-counsel Brian M. Melber.
Kelley, who resigned from his job last May after he became the subject of an FBI civil rights investigation, apologized in court for his actions. He will be sentenced again Wednesday in state court in connection with an unrelated conviction for attempted assault.
Kelley, 31, has been in jail since last September, when Buffalo police arrested him after a disturbance in a South Buffalo tavern. That incident led to the attempted-assault conviction.
Speaking in federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Trini E. Ross asked Arcara to send Kelley to prison for a year, which would be the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction.
Ross said that Kelley’s angry outbursts have harmed other people — including family members — for years and argued that he now must face the consequences of his actions.
She noted that he was disciplined for bad conduct eight times since his appointment as an officer in 2005.
Two of those disciplinary actions involved domestic abuse, Ross noted.
Arcara agreed that Kelley’s problems with drinking and rage have hurt others, but the judge said the former patrolman seems to be making a sincere effort to deal with his problems.
“I have come to the realization that I need help,” Kelley said, bursting into tears as he read an apology to the court.
Last May, Kelley resigned from his $70,000-a-year job with the West Seneca police. The resignation followed a March 12 off-duty incident in which witnesses said Kelly choked and assaulted a patron at Mackie’s Countryside Inn on Clinton Street in West Seneca.
Authorities said Kelley led the patron outside and attacked him after the patron made, and apologized for, a vulgar remark aimed at Kelley and his wife.
Before attacking the man, according to court papers, Kelley used his cell phone to call a police dispatcher on the dispatcher’s personal cell phone. Kelley then asked for officers to be sent to the bar to help remove what he claimed was an unruly customer.
Two officers responded to the bar call, but they were not accused of assisting Kelley in the assault of the patron.
FBI agents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Kelley with a felony civil rights crime in July. They also charged him with illegally using a police computer to find information about the young man he had attacked at Mackie’s.
Kelley was released on bail weeks after the federal arrest, but he was jailed again Sept. 22, when Buffalo officers arrested him on state charges after he scuffled with them in a South Buffalo bar.
State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang will sentence Kelley on Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to felony attempted assault and could face up to four years.
“We will ask [Justice] Wolfgang to consider probation, but she is not bound in any way by what Judge Arcara did,” Personius said.
In a letter to the judge, one of Kelley’s brothers said Kelley had problems with his temper for many years but always got off with “a slap on the wrist.”
Kelley repeatedly got into trouble during his five-year police career. According to law enforcement officials in West Seneca, political connections enabled Kelley to get hired as a police officer in early 2005.
Detectives who conducted a background check on Kelley said they did not think he was suitable for police work, but he was hired anyway, The Buffalo News reported last October.
After he was hired, federal prosecutors said he was disciplined repeatedly — including four suspensions without pay for a total of 57 days — after a series of incidents involving violent conduct, sick-time abuse and drinking.
Ross said Police Chief Edward F. Gehen was “at his wits’ end” over Kelley’s conduct last year. She said the chief asked FBI agents to investigate Kelley because he was concerned that he might hurt someone.
Arcara’s court was packed with supportive friends and family members of Kelley, including Monsignor David M. Gallivan, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church on Buffalo’s West Side.
“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Sean [since his arrests], and I believe he is very sincere about trying to address his problems,” Gallivan said after the sentencing. “He knows about all the pain he has caused, and he knows he has a lifetime to repay people for what he did.”