By Frank Parlato
Austin Harig, 18, the south Buffalo teenager who ran against Carl Paladino, 70, for the Buffalo School Board, is facing the most serious challenge of his life.
It is far more serious than the election contest he waged against Paladino, one of the wealthiest developers and most prominent Republican leaders in Western New York.
Harig faces a B felony charge for gang assault.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to 5- 25 years.
Harig claims police targeted him for harassment and worse — possibly conspiracy – to destroy him as punishment for his politics.
While Harig says he’s a victim, police paint a different picture. They say that ever since Harig moved into the upper apartment at 82 Zittel St. last year, Harig has been a nuisance in this quiet South Buffalo neighborhood where a motley collection of friends come and go at all hours of the night.
Police also say he is a dangerous thug whose arrest record backs it up.
Harig has been arrested twice since he lost a school board election to Paladino last May.
Harig says he was never arrested before he entered politics.
His latest arrest – his felony charge- occurred on Aug. 25 after a fight broke out at his apartment which left Brett Mallone Garlock, 24, seriously injured and transported by ambulance to Erie County Medical Center.
Harig denies he beat up Garlock.
Either way, Harig’s fortunes have changed in the four months since he, a high school senior at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, chose to run against Paladino, whose net worth was estimated to be $150 million by the New York Times when he ran for governor in 2010.
Upon entering the race, Harig stepped into the limelight as the media paid attention to the brash, upstart boy who was criticizing, arguably, the biggest man in Western New York.
Harig was only in 6th grade when Paladino ran against Andrew Cuomo for governor on the Republican and Conservative lines for New York State.
While Paladino lost to Cuomo 61% to 34%, Paladino won all eight counties in Western New York and propelled the Conservative Party back into third place on the ballot – for the first time since 1998.
The founder, chairman and former CEO of Ellicott Development, the largest private landlord in the City of Buffalo with over 2 million square feet of office, retail, and residential space, Paladino is a man whose fearsome energy compelled the Thruway Authority to remove toll barriers on Interstate 190 in the mid-2000s with his threat to sue.
A man who ran for governor on the non-pandering platform. In terms of campaigning, he was Donald Trump before there was a Donald Trump, the first perfectly unapologetic, unequivocal candidate. He was “mad as hell” and “going to take a baseball bat to Albany.”
(Paladino is now the New York co-chair of Trump’s campaign.)
If elected governor, Paladino planned to cut the state budget by 20 percent, shut off instant welfare for those who migrate here from other states, impose drug testing for welfare recipients and cut New York’s Medicaid benefits, the most generous in the USA,
He pledged to eliminate state capital gains taxes and corporate franchise taxes, target patronage jobs estimated at 60,000 statewide, institute a merit-based pay system which would end automatic raises for government employees and incentivize bureaucrats to work for goals.
He sought to get the able-bodied off welfare with a “Dignity Corps”, where repurposed minimum security prisons would become training camps to teach unemployed youth the skills to become employable.
He opposed the unlevel playing field for Native Americans, proposing to enforce excise tax laws on tobacco and gasoline sales. And he never minces words, or fears what others might think of his words, or being politically correct.
Of the Native American Protesters who held State Troopers (and governors) at bay, he said, “The fact that the past three governors have neglected to go up and enforce the law because they’re afraid of somebody standing on top of a police car or they’re afraid of somebody burning some tires in the street, that’s not me. Let one of them stand on top of a police car in my administration, it would be the last time they stood on top of a police car.”
He intended to impose term limits of eight years for all elected positions, and declare these positions ineligible for state pensions or lifetime medical coverage.
He hoped to dissolve the state’s shadow governments, which control much of New Yorkers’ lives in secrecy, such as the Board of Regents, the SUNY Board of Trustees, the Empire State Development Corporation, The Off-Track Betting Corporation, the New York Power Authority and the Thruway Authority.
Of course, Paladino could be blunt. He compared public service labor unions to pigs.
He called New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand “[Senior Senator Chuck] Schumer’s little girl.”
He said his fellow Republicans had “pathetic careers in government.”
He said Obamacare could be more deadly than the September 11 attacks.
And, in 2013, when Paladino ran for the Buffalo School Board for the Park District seat, which comprises South Buffalo, Kaisertown, and Lovejoy, he boldly declared his candidacy was based on his support of charter schools and his opposition to the teachers union and School Superintendent Pamela Brown, whose hiring he said was motivated by race.
He defeated Adrian Harris by a 4 to 1 margin in the May 2013 election.
Within a year, Paladino got a bloc of board members to form a 5-4 majority and they ousted Brown and replaced her with Dr. Donald Ogilvie, who was also ousted. Then the board – including his own majority – split with Paladino – hiring Dr. Kriner Cash against Paladino’s wishes.
Paladino wrote, “Dr. Cash (has) done… Nothing! …. In fact, the statistics on student performance haven’t improved one iota to what they were before he was anointed by the assholes on the board. No improvements in attendance, he hasn’t destroyed the teacher’s union and their outrageous contracts…”
“To Kriner Cash, I say this: ‘You think you fixed our schools? You can’t fix shit! You ARE shit! Hit the bricks, pal, and beat it ’cause you are going OUT!'”
Which brings us to the Spring of 2016.
The teachers union backed two strong candidates against two of Paladino’s majority members, hoping to win back the majority.
Nobody thought there was a chance against Paladino in South Buffalo and no serious candidate was recruited.
Enter Austin Harig, the boy now facing a felony charge.
He came out of nowhere and based his campaign on being a student. “I’m a product of the Buffalo Public Schools. I know what it’s like to be in them.”
“I endured the same things they did and so that’s the perspective I bring to the board and that’s why I say I’m more qualified than Carl (Paladino) to hold this position.”
Harig was endorsed by the Buffalo Teachers Federation, AFL-CIO, Stonewall Democrats of Buffalo and New York State United Teachers, but they didn’t contribute to his campaign.
Harig funded his campaign through a crowd funding website, GoFundMe, raising $5,200 of the $5,900 he reported in cash donations.
Harig offered a platform similar to the teachers union’s desires – no more charter schools, hiring more teachers, giving teachers raises and opposing the use of student test results in teacher evaluations.
But, as the campaign progressed, Harig criticized the divided board.
Harig said, “The voices of our students and families have been drowned out in the shouting match that this board has become.”
Paladino responded, “You can’t have change without acrimony. We’re trying to change the direction of a huge ship. This little guy doesn’t understand that.”
The 18 year old said Paladino’s support of charter schools is a conflict of interest since Paladino has an interest in six charter schools in Buffalo, about 2 percent of his holdings.
Harig also seemed to make it personal.
Referring to Paladino, Harig told Eileen Buckley for WBFO radio, “Nobody else is going to bring adult behavior to the school board then it is my civic duty to try because I care about these kids and I want to help them and if nobody else will, well then an 18-year-old has to put his life aside for a little bit and kick this guy out. But I guess a lot of people are scared of him and think he is a big bully, because he is a big bully, but you know I think it is just a bunch of bluster and bravado.”
Paladino said, “I admire the young man’s spunk but I’m not sure if he’s ready for prime time yet. I’m not finished with my goals yet for the school system. When I am he’s welcome to challenge for the seat.”
But as the war of words evolved, Paladino said later,”He called me a racist, he called me a sexist, he called me all these things and I never went back at him because I was not going to take advantage of an 18-year-old adolescent.”
After the polls closed on May 3, the Board of Elections did not declare a winner until they counted the absentee ballots. After they did, Paladino won by 132 votes.
After he won, Paladino remarked to Time Warner Cable News that Harig had been suspended from school for being late many times.
Harig in turn threatened to sue Paladino for using his school board position to violate his privacy rights.
Paladino said he heard about Harig’s school suspension “in the streets,” adding “He’s an immature, 18-year-old kid.”
Harig never sued Paladino and graduated from Hutch Tech in June.
On June 8, he was arrested the first time.
The stories Buffalo Police and Harig tell differ markedly.
Harig, a minor himself, was charged by police with providing alcoholic beverages to three minors – one was 18 and two were 17 – and allowing them to smoke marijuana in his home.
Harig pleaded not guilty before City Court Judge James McLeod.
Harig told Artvoice he did not give anyone alcohol. That schoolmate Mark Patterson was invited to stay overnight at his house. After Harig went to sleep, Patterson went out with two teenagers and came back late.
Joshua Caldwell, 17, was one of those present.
Caldwell said, “Me and two other friends decided to take a walk to the park. On our way back our friend (Mark Patterson) did something very stupid. He decided it would be fun to rip a stop sign out of the ground. So he walked down the street with it and walked it all the way up Austin’s hallway. But the hallway had a sharp left turn so it didn’t fit all the way up. Austin was asleep but he was woken up by the noise. He came down in his pajamas, and not 10 seconds later there was a loud knock at the door and the police who had been following us came in.”
Patterson was arrested and police then searched Harig’s house.
Harig was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors, first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child and second-degree criminal nuisance for allowing the minors to smoke marijuana.
Harig was arraigned before City Court Judge James A.W. McLeod.
After several adjournments, prosecutors were unable to produce physical evidence of alcohol and marijuana which police might have seized at the time of the arrest. Police were also unable to produce drug or sobriety tests to indicate the minors had consumed the drugs and alcohol Harig was said to have provided or allowed in his home.
The prosecution also was unable to produce supporting depositions from the three teenagers since all three claimed Harig did not give them alcohol or allow them to smoke marijuana.
In fact they claimed they hadn’t smoked or drank that night.
Judge MacLeod dismissed the case against Harig on Sept. 8.
Following this Harig claimed police continued to harass him.
Police said Harig was playing music loudly and having a raft of mischievous youths at his home, causing a nuisance to neighbors.
Harig’s roommate, Dominique Deane, 24, says police regularly stopped at their residence, knocked on the door, and shined flashlights up to his windows at night.
While at his door, the officers also told Harig that they know who he was and laughed, she said.
Harig said officers made disparaging comments about the Hillary Clinton stickers he hung on his door, referring to him derisively as “the Hillary Clinton supporter”.
Then, one day, came the serious, potentially life-altering offence.
On August 25, police responded to a 911 call to Harig’s home on Zittel Street.
When police arrived, they found Brett Garlock, 25, lying at the foot of the porch, suffering head and body injuries and bleeding from a head wound. Both his eyes were swollen shut, police reports show.
Police reported that Garlock may have had a broken neck, a head fracture and fractured or missing teeth.
Police charged Harig with third degree assault with intent to cause physical harm, first degree gang assault causing serious physical injury, and second degree harassment.
Jonathon Tyner, 21, was charged with resisting arrest, second-degree obstructing governmental administration and second-degree harassment, according to Buffalo Police.
Both men were taken into custody at the Erie County Holding Center. Garlock was taken to the Erie County Medical Center by ambulance.
Artvoice learned that police spoke with about 10 witnesses that night, and trying to get a perspective, we contacted a number of them.
Deane told Artvoice that the victim, Brett Garlock, came over as her guest. Inebriated, he began flirting with Deane and another Harig roommate, Jennifer Pahl, 24.
Pahl told Artvoice that “Brett grabbed my butt and I turned around and said ‘don’t do that’ and he pushed me and that’s when the guys started fighting. Austin didn’t do anything. Austin was trying to like mitigate it.”
According to witnesses, a man named Giovanni threw the first punch. Joining Giovanni were Tyler Lampert and a man named Deetho. The three fought Brett and his cousin, Zach Garlock, 20.
Witnesses said Harig tried to break up the fight.
As the fight made its way down the stairs, Zach was knocked out and Brett was beaten badly and faded in and out of consciousness.
At this point, Harig told someone to call 911 and the assailants went upstairs.
Harig described the scene, “Brett was bleeding from his nose and mouth. There was so much blood there was no nose to reset. I knew Brett was in danger of choking on his own blood. I put him on his side and patted him on the back so he would cough up some blood because he was starting to choke. It took the cops 15 minutes to come and I was the only one who even stayed with him. He could have died. The rest of them left him for dead. I said, ‘stay with me, Brett you’re going to be ok.’ I stayed until the cops got there and as soon as they arrived they started yelling at me, calling out my name ‘Austin Harig.’”
“While we were waiting, Tyler Lampert came down again and tried to stomp on Brett’s face, but Jonathan Tyner stopped him.”
According to Harig, when police arrived and Tyner told police that Harig did not beat Garlock, police arrested him. Attempts by Artvoice to reach Tyner were unsuccessful and according to MobilePatrol, he is still in custody in lieu of $2,000 bail.
“Everyone was shocked that the police insisted on arresting Austin,” Deane told Artvoice. “There were at least nine witnesses telling the police that Austin had nothing to do with the fight and everyone told the police who actually participated in the fight.”
Witnesses identified Lampert, with bloody hands and b
oots –sitting on the porch –but police chose not to apprehend him.
Pahl said, “The cops came and immediately arrested Austin. He didn’t have no role in the fight. He was trying to break it up. I told them not to arrest him. I said Austin didn’t do anything. The cop told me to get your shit and get out of the house, and I am standing outside and they are arresting Austin. The police were yelling at everybody in the house and said that Austin has crazy parties all the time, which he doesn’t.”
Deane added, “The police were asking us questions. There was around 10 people on the porch and we were all saying the same thing. Austin was trying to get everybody to stop fighting and calm them down. After the fight he was at the bottom of the stairs trying to help Brett. The police had us all on the porch and everyone said the same thing and they arrested Austin.”
But, significantly, one witness did not say the same thing. He was fight participant, Zach Garlock, the cousin of the victim. Zach Garlock signed a statement with police that Harig beat up Brett Garlock.
While attempts to reach the victim, Brett Garlock, were unsuccessful, Artvoice contacted Zach Garlock.
When asked about the incident, he told Artvoice, “I want to recant my statement about Austin I made to the police. He never hit anybody.”
Why did you tell police Austin hit Brett?
“Because I was coerced by the arresting officers,” Zach Garlock said. “They wanted me to incriminate Austin Herig. My statement to the police was under a false name. I said I was Zach Drake. My real name is Zachary Garlock. Austin did not get personal in the fight. The police asked me if Austin did it and they wouldn’t let me see my cousin unless I told them so I said Austin did it.”
Why did you lie?
“I was scared. I had warrants against me,” Zach Garlock said.
In trying to determine the validity of the witnesses’ stories, Artvoice contacted Deanna Nichols, who lives at 68 Zittel. She went outside to watch when police arrived that night.
She said, “All Austin was doing was giving some medical attention and the cops got really rough with him for no reason at all. They treated him like garbage. I seen it right across the street from my neighbor’s porch.”
Another neighbor, Mary Lee Nowocin, 38, said, “I seen the cops were nasty with Austin when they were outside. He wasn’t getting smart or nothing. They were rude to him. They said he was a nuisance in the neighborhood. They were tying to say he was in on the fight. Austin said he wasn’t. The other kids in the house were in the fight. Austin is not a fighter. He stays to himself. He doesn’t fight nobody. They just like to harass him. They like to stop him and pester him for no reason.”
Finally, Artvoice spoke to Jeremy P—, 18, who was also a witness.
He said, “We were all just hanging out and then I see Austin breaking it up and then he was helping the one guy out. The roommates started the fight. They started fighting down the stairs and it was not good. I don’t want Austin getting in trouble. He is not that type of kid. He is always on computers. He never really started anything with anybody. I don’t find it fair at all. I really don’t. I don’t find it fair.”
As of press time, Harig is awaiting his next court appearance, and will be represented by assigned counsel based on his now indigent status.