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Judge orders release of controversial New Buffalo surveillance tapes

NEW BUFFALO, Mich. -- On Monday morning, a Berrien County judge upheld an earlier ruling to allow the release of surveillance video from inside city hall.

The tapes, from August of 2016, allegedly show street superintendent Tony Ashbaugh having a conversation with a coworker about other city employees. He is accused of saying threatening and racial remarks.

For the first time, Ashbaugh is sharing his side of he story.

“I said some things that were dumb and do I wish I hadn’t said them? Certainly I do. Whether I was caught on tape or not I wish I hadn’t said them. It was a stupid thing and I totally wish I hadn’t done it,” says Ashbaugh.

Ashbaugh says he and a coworker were in his office discussing possible misconduct of the former police chief.

In that conversation, he admits he made insensitive jokes he shouldn’t have about other city employees.

He never expected for that conversation to leave his office, but, Ashbaugh says someone from the police department was watching and listening.

“It was a private conversation basically used against me, I’ll say as a vendetta,” says Ashbaugh.

The conversation was recorded and taken to Ashbaugh’s superiors.

Documents obtained by ABC 57 show the city manager considered capturing the conversation a “breach of authority” by former Chief Larry Pitchford.

The letter goes on to issue a warning that further inappropriate behavior could lead to formal discipline and even termination.

In September, after over 40 years with the city, Chief Pitchford agreed to a separation agreement with the city.

As rumors of the taped conversation began circulating throughout the community, many wanted to see it for themselves. Countless FOIA requests, including my own, were all denied.

Because of that, longtime resident Ray Kirkus filed a civil suit against the city.

“I mean there’s all types of questionable things that go on and there has to be some type of responsibility to the citizens of New Buffalo regarding the city employees,” says Kirkus.

Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley agreed in September that the tapes should be released and stood by that decision at an appeal Monday morning.

At the hearing, an attorney for the city told the judge they were ready to release the tapes and the city just wants to put this ordeal behind them.

“If there’s nothing to hide we should be able to see what’s on those tapes,” says Kirkus.

Ashbaugh says the issue is not with FOIA requests. It’s the idea that he and his coworkers are constantly being watched.

He says the security cameras were originally installed to capture potential crime at the city hall’s cash register, not conversations between co-workers.

At the time of the August 2016 conversation, city building was closed to the public.

“There are a lot of people in my shoes, in their office that say dumb things. That’s not an excuse for me. I’ll take full responsibility. But, it was still a private conversation used against me basically to get my job, to get me fired,” says Ashbaugh.

Following Monday’s decision, the judge will give the official order to release the tapes within the next three days.



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