Howard Defends Celebrity Jail Tour; Film Crew May Relocate
Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard says allowing Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves to tour the holding center could be of great benefit to the county, and that suggestions he's keeping federal investigators out of the facility are false.
But local tourism officials fear the headlines and political back-and-forth resulting from the tour may cause the Reeves' film crew to move some its production elsewhere.
For a place most folks typically try to avoid, Erie County's Holding Center is suddenly a destination in demand.
Reeves, who's about to play a criminal in a locally-filmed movie, was allowed to take a 20-minute tour of the facility Sunday. At the same time, Sheriff Howard has refused to give federal investigators access to the jail unless the county's lawyers can tag along.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating claims of prisoner abuse and mismanagement at the jail. Sheriff Howard says the jail is up to constitutional standards.
Howard's opponent this November held a press conference outside the Holding Center Thursday afternoon to criticize the sheriff.
"You do not suddenly send (a Hollywood crew) in to your facilities that you will not let the department of justice in," said Cheektowaga Police Captain John Glascott, the Democratic Party's Nominee for Sheriff. "This has become a national embarrassment."
Minutes later Sheriff Howard addressed reporters on the matter for the first time. He reiterated that federal investigators are welcome to tour the holding center if they're accompanied, as Reeves and the film crew were.
REPORTER: "How do you think it looks to folks when -- at the very least it seems as though access might be limited to federal investigators, but not so to a Hollywood star?"
HOWARD: "I would say that the well-informed reader is intelligent enough to see through that. This is propaganda thrown out now by other people."
Howard said the Reeves' tour could be of great benefit to the county and its economy.
The head of the county's convention and visitor's bureau says the political back-and-forth is putting parts of the film project in jeopardy, with the filmmakers suggesting they'll move parts of it elsewhere.
"I've been talking to some people, conferring with folks involved in the production and this could definitely jeopardize the amount of days they spend here, and the amount of money they spend up to -- it could be as much as two million dollars," CVB President Drew Creza said.
Creza says the filmmakers have not yet decided what they'll do. 2 On Your Side raised those concerns with Glascott.
REPORTER: "Are you concerned that by making at least somewhat of a political issue about this, that some of that business could be steered away from the Buffalo area?"
GLASCOTT: "I certainly hope not. I applaud the people who brought the film industry here, as would applaud the people who bring new industry into the area. That was a good. Letting the Hollywood producers and Hollywood actors into jails that are under federal investigation I don't think is such a good move."
2 On Your Side again asked Sheriff Howard if he would allow our cameras into the jail for an accompanied tour, similar to the one Reeves received. He declined to give us a tour at this time.