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Buffalo police officer fired for intervening pushes reform

June 18, 2020 GMT

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A Buffalo police officer fired 12 years ago for interfering with another officer who she said was choking a suspect is stepping up calls for reforms around how officers should respond to police brutality following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, where an officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck even after he stopped pleading for air.

Cariol Horne said there was nothing to protect her when she pulled fellow Officer Gregory Kwiatkowski’s arm from around the neck of a handcuffed domestic violence suspect. The 19-year veteran was fired just short of collecting a pension.

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“Cariol’s Law” would require officers to intervene if they see excessive force being used and protect them from retaliation. A registry of offenses would prevent violent officers from transferring among departments.

“I yelled, ‘Greg, you’re choking him,’ and he didn’t stop,” Horne recalled during an interview Thursday. “I grabbed his arm from around his neck .... That was the only physical contact that I had. And they fabricated a story and said that I did all of these other things that I didn’t do.”

Kwiatkowski, she said, responded by punching her in the face.

Horne, an activist for several years, has recently joined in on the racial justice and police accountability protests that have sprung from Floyd’s death. She is hoping her Cariol’s Law proposal picks up widespread support from lawmakers.

“We want Neal Macks from now forward,” Horne said, referring to the suspect in her case. “He still breathes.”

Horne’s case also has gained new attention in Buffalo City Hall. The Common Council last week passed a resolution asking New York’s attorney general to review the 2006 incident that led to her firing two years later. Horne and Mack are black and Kwiatkowski is white. The resolution also requests that the office review attendance records at the heart of Horne’s long running fight to collect the police pension the mother of five said she has earned.

Attorney General Letitia James has not publicly said whether she will review the case, nor has she contacted Horne. A spokeswoman said the office would not be commenting. Horne said a previous attorney general declined to review her case, saying the office lacked jurisdiction.

Horne was fired in 2008 after an arbitration process determined she had put the lives of the officers at the scene in danger. She has since lost her appeals.

Kwiatkowski, meanwhile, was promoted to lieutenant in 2008 and won a defamation suit against Horne, from which Horne said he has collected $20,000.

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Kwiatkowski later pleaded guilty to deprivation of civil rights for using excessive force against four black teenagers suspected of shooting a BB gun in 2009. Prosecutors said Kwiatkowski slammed the teenagers’ heads onto a vehicle while yelling obscenities at them. He was sentenced to four months in prison.

Kwiatkowski could not be reached by phone Thursday because a public listing was unavailable.

Mayor Byron Brown, when asked about Horne’s case during a news conference last week, said “a different telling of history is happening from what happened at that time.”

“Officer Horne did not have to be terminated,” he said, saying Horne opted for arbitration.

“She went through a process that she called for and was terminated,” Brown said. “The police that worked with her at the time - and some of them have had their own problems - they did not agree that she was operating to save someone’s life.”

“A judge who reviewed that case didn’t think that what she was saying was accurate and didn’t overrule what happened,” Brown said.

Horne said her activism has come at a price, including an arrest for protesting the death of a man in police custody and her eviction from city housing last year that was followed by time in a homeless shelter.

The Common Council’s request for a review of her case comes amid scrutiny of Buffalo policing following the release of video showing two police officers shoving a 75-year-old protester who approached them at the end of a demonstration in front of City Hall June 4.

Protester Martin Gugino’s attorney said he remains hospitalized with a brain injury after falling backwards and cracking his head on the sidewalk.

Two officers have been charged with felonies.