Exposed! Police Brutality in Buffalo


8-27-07, 12:00 pm

A talk show producer once told me that he breaks police officers down into three categories. Twenty percent of the officers are really good cops; they arrest dangerous criminals, they’ll climb a tree to save your little girl’s cat. Another 20 percent are flat-out evil, bad, corrupt, racist and abusive. And 60 percent are in the middle. Believe it or not it’s the ones in the middle that are the biggest problem: they’re the ones who will often be in a position to stop the malcontents and won’t do it. An officer among the 60 will help cover up police misconduct, will at times side in favor of the erring cop not really out of maliciousness, but in the spirit of going along to get along, and lasting long enough to collect his or her pension. This is a story about officers in all three categories.

Lawsuits are currently being filed in Buffalo, New York over cases that have nothing to do with public safety or fighting crime, but everything to do with harassment of inner city Blacks and the subsequent acts to keep these ridiculous behaviors from reaching the media. On November 1, 2006 a mailman flagged down an officer after witnessing a domestic squabble between a former live-in couple. Evidently, the former girlfriend of a Mr. Neal Mack stopped by his Walden Avenue home to pick up an anticipated check that didn’t come with Mack’s batch of mail that day and the woman accused Mack of stealing her check. Along comes a really bad role of the dice known as Officer Greg Kwiatkowski – literally one of Buffalo’s worst.

According to Mack’s attorney Anthony Pendergrass, Mack was arrested because when Kwiatkowski and a backup officer who arrived at some point (Buffalo squad cars have only one officer per vehicle) at Mack’s door, he asked them if they had a warrant and the officers indicated they didn’t have one so he made an attempt to close his door. And the officers were said to have kicked the door open and according to Pendergrass: “run rough-shod over his home… beating up his children – one under 18 – his adult son Neal Mack Jr., and his girlfriend. He was billyclubbed over the head.”

Mack, a middle-aged family man wasn’t just weathering the current abuse, he was in danger of losing his life and probably would have if it weren’t for a very bold and selfless action of a police officer who was about to arrive at that apartment. Officer Cariol (or Carol as she is known) Horn of Buffalo’s 12th District (formerly known as the Ugly-12th Precinct) says she got the call to the residence not knowing what the situation was or that another officer was there.

She disclosed to me her version of the incident: “When I got there Neal Mack was cuffed in the front and he was standing sideways while the cop (Kwiatkowski) was punching him in the face.” Hmmm, already cuffed, punching him in the face. What a brave soul this Kwiatkowski is. Officer Horn continued, “so the cop that was in front of me said ‘Greg let me get him, let me cuff him in the back,’ and Greg said ‘no,’ When I walked in there, Kwiatkowski continued to punch him in the face.”

Considering that Officer Kwiatkowski’s actions were a complete breakdown in police and public safety procedure, not to mention the uncalled for lack of total respect for a private citizen and his guests in his home, Horn said the only thing on her mind at that point was to get Mack out of the apartment.

“Actually I was really thinking we’d better get him out of here before Kwiatkowski kills him,” said Horn in an interview with me for the Buffalo Criterion. Other officers of course did arrive, but thanks to the determined Kwiatkowski, things didn’t get any better. Then Greg had Mr. Neal; he pulled him down to him and just started choking him with his arm (around Mr. Mack’s neck). I was looking at the guys face and I said “Greg! Greg! You’re choking him.” So I grabbed his arm from around the guy’s neck and he said “Get the F—k off of me” and punched me in my face.

When Kwiatkowski hit his own fellow officer because she stopped him from choking Mack, other officers stepped in to separate them both. Horn wasn’t the only Black officer there but her quick thinking probably saved a life that Kwiatkowski may have been determined to take. Predictably she didn’t receive a hero’s welcome at downtown headquarters. No less than eight charges were leveled against Horn by Buffalo’s internal affairs division (known in Buffalo as Professional Standards Division) most relating to obstruction.

Kwiatkowski accused Horn of jumping on his back, which she denies. Horn is not without her own prior issues with the department, but she deserves more objective judgment. She was once fired years ago by the same PSD officer who is investigating this case: Carl Terranova. Eventually she fought it and was reinstated to the department. In order to understand Kwiatkowski’s angle, one would have to bend his mind away from all conventional thought of right and wrong and make a conscious effort to become totally obstinate (nothing new in Buffalo).

What makes this story still relevant is that Kwiatkowski has long been back on duty, while Horn is still considered IOD (injured on duty) pending a medical approval. I knew of the incident back when it happened, but the Buffalo News and the Buffalo Challenger covered it immediately (the Challenger – a Black paper – went into more detail). Officer Kwiatkowski went back on duty without suspension, just a 30-day administrative leave with pay – little more than a slap on the wrist for doing something he should have been arrested and fired for. This is not even my first story on him.

I spoke with Commissioner Gipson about this case several times now. Once myself and about eight local activists met with Mr. Gipson in a scheduled meeting in his conference room back on April 19 at downtown headquarters to see about getting Horn back on duty and to call for Kwiatkowski’s ouster from the department. Our esteemed police chief heard what we had to say and basically told us his decisions weren’t going to be influenced by public opinion. I think he feels that Horn is dodging it, but she’s a tiny woman, shorter than average at just over 5’1”. She can’t shake a blow from a 6’2” guy like that the way a larger person might and just go back to work. Over the months she’s suffered headaches. Gipson told me last July while returning one of my messages that even though he is the commissioner, there are laws that prevent him from firing Horn as well as Kwiatkowski.

Officer Horn has been before the electronic media and stated her case. Her last interview on a local Black talk show resulted in members of the local police department marching into the Apollo Theater studio with a fake subpoena or warrant demanding copies of the show. Kwiatkowski’s Kooky Kops I call them (KKK). This also earned Horn three more charges from PSD including their most precious, the one that both the commissioner and their internal affairs want out of her the most: a complete silence regarding all media contact. A couple of activists have told me this is just a way to get her quietly fired.

Kwiatkowski should have been fired long ago. I broke a story on him back in February 2000 where he at least in part helped start a fight in a bar after exchanging words with three men talking to two white females. Two of the three men were Black and whether or not any of the three were in a relationship with either of the women is nobody’s business. But the real kicker to this story is, the officers were said to have been intoxicated by this time. An interdepartmental memo I obtained from a police source admits they “created a problem in this bar,” and, according to the memo, they were released from duty early by a supervisor after returning from a “training session.”

Just what was this rigorous training session that evidently caused enough stress that forced Kwiatkowski and his charge to seek the comforts of ye olde watering hole? Was it SWAT training? Perhaps they were training to go undercover. Nope. It was cultural diversity training. I even talked to the head of the training group back then, Brian Hayes. He said a police lieutenant told him that those guys got “stirred-up but in the wrong direction.”

It would send out a good message to the rest of Buffalo’s head-case cops if the new commissioner removed a cancer like Kwiatkowski. A new line of work would probably give the troubled officer a new perspective on life knowing he has to deal with various people without a uniform, badge and Glock to shield him.

As it turns out, all news isn’t bad news. Charges against Mr. Neal Mack were recently dropped. They originally charged him with obstructing governmental administration (I guess if you want to call Kwiatkowski’s actions “governmental administration” you are free to do so), petty larceny (for stealing a check that was assumed to have been in his own mailbox, even though that check had yet to be delivered), criminal mischief, and probably for not breathing hard enough while Kwiatkowski was choking him.

Mack’s attorney Anthony Pendergrass moved for a dismissal of all charges based on one small factor; the initial arrest was unlawful. Pendergrass referenced an old case from 1980, Payton v. New York, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that “absent consent exigent (a situation requiring swift attention or action) circumstances, no home may be entered by the police for the purpose of arresting its occupant without an arrest warrant first being obtained.” Honorable City Court Judge Debra Givins agreed with Pendergrass in June. It was a gutsy ruling by her, and rare for a Buffalo attorney to fight the case for Mack without the customary compromises that most area lawyers try and make their Black clients think they have to settle for.

Pendergrass says he is not within the local “old boy network” and a lot of Blacks don’t even realize how deep that network runs. Most Blacks suspect the surface evidence. If a given city has an ample amount of industries leave, the fate of Blacks reverts to the hands of remaining corporations, white politicians on both parties and the judicial system. Buffalo’s network runs deeper still.

Former longtime Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve recently stated on his Saturday morning radio show that he and several ministers actually believe that Buffalo is suffering from a “43-year-old curse” that has kept our city from moving forward. Is this curse making Buffalo suffer more than other industrial cities hit with structural decline? Is Buffalo’s racism more potent than racism in other cities like New York, Philly or Chicago? Bad cops exist as a result of certain white industry and business leaders giving them the signal through the low hiring and redlining of working-class and business Blacks. The 60 percent complicit officers exit through Black indifference. Buffalo cops are not given to murder as they were in the early 1990’s, but continued police abuse and disrespect of Blacks could lead to an unrest they haven’t seen since the 1960’s.

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