BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo police launched internal investigation into whether one of its officers was aware of, or present for, heroin use that was part of a short film about the region’s opioid epidemic.
Police officials on Tuesday said they knew nothing about any illegal activity on the set of “Blink of an Eye,” which was partially shot at a restaurant at Main Place Mall. And they’re now concerned the intention of this film is being overshadowed by controversy.
Meanwhile, the attorney for the man near the center of the investigation — who also participated in the film — wants Erie County District Attorney John Flynn to dismiss the charges against his client.
The film is gripping, showing the story of a young woman who becomes addicted to heroin and eventually shares the same fatal fate as hundreds of addicts in Western New York.
The film’s director, Greg Robbins of Amherst, told Buffalo police he needed help with the shoot.
Police said they helped to facilitate shoots, locations and at least one man who appeared in it, Robert Sagliani. Members of the department also appeared in the film.
Robbins told police he wanted to portray the reality of the epidemic. And the film finishes with what appears to be a real shoot session with a real addict and real drugs.
“We were very adamant, we were very clear up front, and everybody abided by it, that we can’t condone breaking the law,” said Buffalo Capt. Steve Nichols. “And possession, use and purchase of drugs would break the law. And everybody was fine with that.”
The drugs are real, according to attorney Mark Sacha, who represents Sagliani, who was arrested in December for drug possession by BPD officer Liz Baker.
Sacha said Baker made his client a promise: If he took part in the film “she would help with the charges.”
“They needed realism,” Sacha said. “They needed real addicts. And she said that if he did that, she would help him with his charges.”
Sacha said Baker was present for the shoot at Main Place Mall. Pictures presented to News 4 show Baker and Sagliani posing for a picture.
“In the restaurant is the same police officer who coerced him into being in the movie,” Sacha said. “She was not in the bathroom, I want to make that clear. She wasn’t in the bathroom. She was present in the restaurant.”
Buffalo Police deny that key fact.
“Liz at the time, was our Main Street detail officer,” Nichols said. “She was asked to find a location for them to shoot. She talked to the people at the restaurant, they agreed to have a back corner. Liz went right back out on Main Street to her patrolling.”
Nichols said the only promise made to Sagliani was to get him the treatment he needed.
Erie DA John Flynn said Tuesday he ordered the police department to conduct an internal investigation. He’s withholding a decision about whether to conduct his own investigation.
“If the allegations turn out to be true, that there were members of the Buffalo Police Department that were involved in this alleged incident of making this movie, that will upset me,” Flynn said. “And once that upsets me, that will have some baring on how I treat these defendants.”
“If the allegations are true that a police officer knew that something was going on the bathroom,” he added. “if a police officer knew that was going on, and knew that there were real drugs, real paraphernalia there, and that police officer turned a blind eye to it, that police officer shouldn’t be a police officer.”
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Still, Flynn said he’s not going to dismiss the charges against Sagliani.
“These individuals were in a car, they were legally stopped in a car and drugs were found in the vehicle on these persons, there’s multiple defendants,” Flynn said of Sagliani’s December arrest. “The actual crime is an entirely separate matter than the alleged conduct in the making of this movie, so you have to separate the two.”
Nichols said he hopes the controversy doesn’t outweigh the impact the film should have on a community that’s being torn apart by the opiate epidemic.
“We are doing an investigation,” Nichols said. “And it’s just a shame that a project that so many people dedicated so much time to, and really poured their hearts into, was a very emotional thing for everyone…has to be tainted by one person’s allegations.”