A Sandusky police officer mistakenly placed a sheriff’s captain at the scene of an altercation last month and then later called the captain’s character into question, Erie County Sheriff’s officials said.
It’s the second time in as many years that Officer Eric Costante mistakenly placed a political candidate at the scene of an incident involving police.
But misidentification wasn’t the only error that got Costante in trouble with his boss.
Police Chief Jim Lang verbally reprimanded Costante for later altering the Oct. 24 incident report that misidentified Capt. Paul Sigsworth as the deputy who witnessed an argument outside the county courthouse.
“We told him not to do it again,” Lang said. “There was no formal discipline.”
More troubling to sheriff’s officials, however, are the comments Costante allegedly made to a roomful of law enforcement officers during a Fraternal Order of Police meeting Nov. 1.
Multiple law enforcement officials said they learned Costante told officers at the meeting that Sigsworth didn’t help him during the Oct. 24 incident.
Costante wouldn’t confirm or refute the truthfulness of the allegations.
“I’m not going to comment on that (meeting), period,” he said. “It’s a private meeting.”
Erie County Sheriff Terry Lyons said Costante’s inaccurate report raises concerns.
“It calls Sigsworth’s character into question,” Lyons said. “That’s obvious.”
In the first version of his report, Costante stated he saw a person — Michael Brown, 43, of Sandusky — shouting obscenities in front of the courthouse.
“Standing at the front door I observed Capt. Sigsworth and a second subject walk inside the court,” the report stated.
Costante then confronted Brown and told him he’d be arrested if he didn’t stop shouting. Brown then left.
About two days prior to that incident, Sigsworth had announced his plans to run for the Erie County Sheriff’s seat.
After the FOP meeting, several attendees told him about Costante’s allegations, Lyons said.
“The perceived problem was that one of the deputies didn’t take the appropriate action to assist another agency,” Lyons said.
Said Sigsworth: “What was alleged was I turned my back on what was going on. At first I was upset with myself. When another cop needs help you don’t question, you don’t hesitate, you just go.”
But after racking his brain, Sigsworth said he couldn’t remember being outside the courthouse on Oct. 24.
Other deputies then confirmed: It was actually Deputy Joe Pfeiffer who had been at the courthouse that day.
Pfeiffer told Lyons he remembers the incident much differently than Costante — the officer and Brown appeared to be talking normally, so there was no reason to intervene.
Lang said he didn’t believe for a minute that Sigsworth would refuse to help someone.
“Anybody who knows Sigsworth knows that that doesn’t sound like him,” Lang said. “He’s always around to help.”
Lang said he called Costante to his office and told him his report was wrong.
“We found out it wasn’t Sigsworth,” Lang said. “So we told him to fix it.”
Rather than writing a second report to supplement the original — as department policy requires — Costante erased “Capt. Sigsworth” and typed over it, “a Sheriff Deputy.”
Lang then told Costante, a five-year veteran with Sandusky police, not to do that.
In 2009 Costante wrote an incident report that said officers arrested a cocaine dealer at Diedre Cole’s house.
At the time, Cole was poised to replace outgoing city commissioner Brett Fuqua.
A Register reporter saw the report and asked Cole about it, and she was outraged at the inaccuracy.
Police later admitted it was a mistake.
After that incident, Costante was ordered to take a refresher course on “basic investigative procedures.”
Then-police Chief Charlie Sams also assigned him to the detective’s division so he could learn from seasoned officers.
At the time, Cole said: “If that’s an example of our police department and their efforts, I’m terribly sorry, but we have some corrections that need to be made and made immediately.”
Costante said there was no ulterior motive for mistakenly mentioning Sigsworth in the Oct. 24 report.
“There’s no political motive,” Costante said. “I’m not losing my family and home for whatever personal gain would come of it.”