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15 cases of alleged police brutality, excessive force in WNY since 2006

86 percent involve people of color as victims
Police: Philadelphia gun shop owner shoots, kills suspect during burglary
Posted at 3:38 PM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 15:38:35-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — There have been at least 15 cases of alleged police brutality or excessive force in Western New York since 2006, according to a review of public records and news stories by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team.

In 13 of those 15 cases -- 86 percent -- people of color were injured or killed at the hands of police, who often said the actions were legal and justified, while many of the families of the injured or dead disagreed.

In some cases, the officers were cleared. In others, they were charged and convicted. In one case, the officer was charged but acquitted by a jury. In another high-profile case, a Buffalo police officer who stopped a fellow officer from choking a handcuffed man was fired from the force.

Below is a summary of the cases, along with links to news stories about the incidents.

Two officers/Quentin Suttles -- In May 2020, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced he was investigating a Buffalo Police arrest caught on camera. During the arrest, which was caught on cell phone video, a Buffalo Police officer repeatedly punched suspect Quentin Suttles in the head while Suttles was on the ground.

Police said it started when officers observed a car driving the wrong way down Madison Street, which is a one-way street. According to police, the 30-year-old driver was driving without a license. A police report stated, "Officers initiated a traffic stop and a strong odor of marijuana was coming from the vehicle...While conducting pat down, searched defendant did push off vehicle and fight with officers. Defendant continued to fight and reach in his pants, ignoring officers command to stop resisting."

The video shows a police officer repeatedly punching Suttles in the face while he is on the ground.

Suttles was charged with resisting arrest, concealing and trying to destroy evidence, obstructing governmental administration, operating a vehicle without a license and driving the wrong way on a one way street.

The Buffalo Police Advisory Board called for an investigation and for the officers, which were identified by Investigative Post as Ronald J. Ammerman and Michael Scheu, to be removed from the job. The NAACP also called for an investigation.

Two officers/Wilson Morales -- In January 2020, the Buffalo Common Council agreed to a $4.5 million settlement to a man who was shot seven years ago by Buffalo police.

On June 24, 2012, police said Wilson Morales led them on a high-speed chase at 3 a.m. on the East Side that ended in two officers, Karl Schultz and Jason Whitenight, firing shots into the van driven by Morales.

The officers said Morales, while the officers were approaching the van, reversed quickly and nearly struck them.

The Buffalo News in 2012 reported the officers were cleared of wrongdoing, but documents filed with the Common Council show city attorneys wanted the council to settle the case “based on the facts and legal analysis” included in a “confidential write-up” given to all members of the Common Council.

The memo from city lawyers to the council said Morales, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, sought damages "for serious and permanent personal injuries" arising from the incident. The News reported in 2012 that Morales was charged with assaulting a police officer and unlawfully fleeing, but it is unclear whether those charges were prosecuted or dropped.

Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Achtyl/Nicholas Belsito -- In January 2020, former Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Achtyl was sentenced to two years probation for assaulting a Bills fan at a tailgate party in 2017.

The former deputy was caught on body camera footage assaulting Bills fan Nicholas Belsito during a tailgate outside New Era Field. Achtyl was found guilty of misconduct, reckless assault and falsifying records, but not guilty on intentional assault.

Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard wrote a letter to the judge calling the former deputy a "hero" and stating that Achtyl was a "dedicated and compassionate public safety servant." He resigned from the sheriff's office in 2019.

Two officers/Rafael "Pito" Rivera -- In September 2019, the family of a man shot and killed by a Buffalo police officer filed a lawsuit against the police department, two officers and the City of Buffalo.

Rafael "Pito" Rivera, 32, was shot on Plymouth Avenue in the early hours of September 12, 2018. In December 2018, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced no charges would be filed against the officers involved in the shooting death of Rivera. Officer Elnur Karadshaev and an unnamed officer were listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo said Rivera had a loaded handgun and ignored a number of requests to drop the gun. Flynn said a gun was recovered at the scene, loaded with 15 rounds. A toxicology report showed signs of multiple substances, including cocaine and alcohol, in Rivera's system.

Flynn said an investigation revealed Rivera was running from police with a gun in his right hand. At one point, Rivera allegedly turned toward the officer. The officer fired six shots, three of which struck Rivera. A gun was found near where Rivera fell, and testing showed only Rivera's DNA on the weapon.

Denice Rivera is seeking damages claiming her son's death was the "result of intentional and/or negligent, careless, reckless and otherwise tortious conduct of the Buffalo Police Department and City of Buffalo."

Officer Corey Krug/Devin Ford -- In July 2019, a jury found Buffalo Police Officer Corey Krug not guilty of two counts of deprivation of constitutional rights in the November 2014 use-of-force case.

The decision Tuesday caps off a lengthy legal process, which gained immense public attention due in part to video captured by 7 Eyewitness News. The video showed Krug pushing Devin Ford, who is black, to a car, then to the ground before hitting him with his baton.

In February 2019, Krug was found not guilty on three of the four counts against him. U.S. Attorney James Kennedy Junior sought a retrial of Krug on the fourth count. Krug was suspended from the Buffalo Police Department with pay in 2015, when a federal grand jury indicted him.

Four officers/Troy Hodge -- In June 2019, the state attorney general's office announced it was investigating the death of Troy Hodge while in Lockport Police custody.

Lockport Police said they responded to a call at a home on Park Avenue about 'out of control' person. After arriving police said Hodge threatened to go into the house and and get a gun. Officers tired to put Hodge into handcuffs but he collapsed at the scene and was declared dead at the Eastern Niagara Hospital, police said.

The police involved in the case -- Lieutenant David Pytlik and officers Daniel Barrancotta, Patricia Burdick and Marissa Bonito -- were placed on administrative leave while the case is investigated. The investigation by the state AG's office continues, a spokesman said. The Lockport Police chief did not respond to messages seeking an update about the officers' status.

Officer Joseph Meli/Marcus Neal -- In March 2019, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said the 2018 shooting of Marcus Neal by Buffalo Police Officer Joseph Meli was justified.

On Dec. 12, 2018, police said security from the Wegmans on Amherst Street reported a shoplifter at 11:20 p.m. An on-duty lieutenant who happened to be in the store was informed the suspect had run.

Approximately eight minutes later, officers located the suspect across the street. They chased the suspect on foot to Gladstone Street, police said, and the suspect ran into a yard and climbed up onto a flat-roof garage. Multiple officers pursued him up there.

Police said Neal produced a knife and refused multiple requests to drop the weapon. Neal then charged the officers with the knife, police said, and one of the officers opened fire, striking the suspect. Neil later died at Erie County Medical Center. Flynn told reporters that toxicology reports showed that Neal had drugs in his system.

Neal's family filed court papers indicating they planned to sue the city and seek monetary damages, according to The Buffalo News. Neal's father and son questioned police accounts.

"We have another black man killed by police under what appear to be suspicious circumstances," Donald M. Thompson, one of the lawyers representing the family, told The News.

Matthew Jaskula/Shaun Porter -- In February 2019, the City of Buffalo released surveillance video showing Matthew Jaskula, a former cell block attendant, brutally beating a suspect in handcuffs in 2016.

The city released the video to 7 Eyewitness News and The Buffalo News one day after the Buffalo Common Council approved a $300,000 settlement to Shaun Porter, the black inmate who was attacked.

The video recording shows jail attendant Matthew Jaskula shoving Porter face-first into a metal door at the city lockup. Porter falls to the floor and hits his head before Jaskula drags him, now bleeding, into an empty cell 10 to 15 feet away.

Two Buffalo police officers, Joshua Craig and Anthony D'Agostino, watched the beating but did not intervene. One of the officers can be seen laughing during the beating. Only Jaskula faced criminal charges in the case. Jaskula pleaded guilty in May 2017 to felony charges of deprivation of rights. He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for violating Porter's constitutional rights.

Lt. Gregory Kwiatkowski/Multiple men/Cariol Horne -- A federal judge sentenced the former Buffalo Police lieutenant to four months in prison in 2018. He pleaded guilty in December 2016 to a civil rights violation dating back to 2009.

In May 2009, Kwiatkowski was working an overnight shift when he responded to a call on Treehaven Road. Cheektowaga police had stopped a vehicle believed to be involved in a BB gun shooting earlier that night. Four people, ages 16 to 18, were inside.

Kwiatkowski admitted to using "unreasonable and excessive" force on the suspects. That force included shoving their heads and upper torsos into a vehicle. He called the four black teenagers “savage dogs” and asked, "Do you like shooting at white kids?"

In November 2006, Kwiatkowski was accused of choking David N. Mack after arresting Mack during a domestic incident. Officer Cariol Horne fought with Kwiatkowski saying, she was trying to save Mack’s life. Horne was later fired for the incident.

Officer Joseph Hassett/Timothy Stanton Jr. -- In May 2018, the Buffalo Police officer was found not guilty after being accused of roughing up a suspect in the Buffalo city lockup in 2017.

Hassett was charged with two counts of third-degree assault, official misconduct, offering a false instrument for filing and making a punishable false written statement in connection to an incident that happened in March 2017.

Investigators claimed Hassett was recorded on camera assaulting a drug suspect. The suspect was taken to ECMC for a head injury and a cut on his forehead that required stitches.

The Erie County District Attorney's Office and the Buffalo Police Department both said they didn't learn about the incident until video of the confrontation was requested by the victim's attorney during the course of his criminal case stemming from the March arrest.

D.A. John Flynn said he viewed the video in May 2017 and was "disturbed." He then provided it to the Buffalo Police Department and asked them to investigate. The video played a key role in Hassett's bench trial and was discussed at length.

7 Eyewitness News obtained a copy of the video in 2018. In the video, Hassett tells the suspect, 28-year-old Timothy Stanton Jr., to "get your hands out of your pockets, out of your pants," before tripping and taking Stanton down. Prosecutors argued this was excessive use of force, but Judge Russell Buscaglia disagreed, dismissing all criminal charges. Hassett was suspended for 30 days without pay by Buffalo Police in 2017.

In May 2019, Hassett was taken off the street after District Attorney John Flynn said , his office would "no longer call Officer Hassett as a witness in any pending or future criminal action...due to irremediable problems of credibility." He was then placed on administrative desk duty.

Two officers/Jose Hernandez-Rossy -- In Feb. 2018, the state attorney general cleared two Buffalo Police officers of criminal wrongdoing in the death of a Buffalo man shot and killed after a fight with officers.

Jose Hernandez-Rossy, 26, was shot after a traffic stop and altercation with officers in May 2017. The attorney general's report stated that New York law allows an officer to use deadly physical force against a fleeing suspect if the officer has reason to believe the suspect has just committed a felony involving physical force against another person.

The family of Hernandez-Rossy filed a civil rights violation lawsuit and a wrongful death lawsuit against the Buffalo Police Department, officers Joseph Acquino and Justin Tedesco, the City of Buffalo, then-Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and American Medical Response.

According to court documents, Hernandez-Rossy's family claimed he was unlawfully pulled over on Garfield Street on May 7, 2017 around 5 p.m. by Tedesco and Acquino. Both officers were known to Hernandez Rossy, and rushed the vehicle, forcefully entering the driver’s door of the car, the family alleged.

Two officers/Wardel “Meech” Davis -- In Dec. 2017, the state attorney general announced Wednesday that the two Buffalo police officers who subdued Wardel “Meech” Davis III would not be charged with any crime.

But according to the state’s 61-page report, that did not mean the department was completely blameless in the matter.

Officers Todd C. McAlister and Nicholas J. Parisi say Davis admitted he had drugs when they tried to handcuff him last February outside a known drug house on the West Side, the report stated. An officer admitted he punched Davis during the struggle, after which the 20-year-old stopped breathing, the report states, adding that the officer was legally justified in using such force.

Davis died a short time later, and even though Davis' death was ruled a homicide, medical records say he died from pre-existing breathing problems that were exacerbated during the struggle.

The attorney general said there was "no evidence" to contradict the officers' accounts because there were no witnesses and no video evidence such as body camera footage or dash camera footage. He added that there was "real need of reform" not only with the police department, but also with the Erie County Medical Examiner’s office, particularly because medical officials insisted on checking with police before making their medical rulings on the death.

Officer Robert Eloff/William C. Sager Jr.-- Eloff was sentenced to three months in federal prison and three months of home confinement in 2016 in connection to an incident at Molly's Pub in Buffalo in 2014.

In 2014, Air National Guardsman William C. Sager Jr. was gravely injured when he was pushed down a flight of stairs by bar manager Jeffrey Basil. Eloff handcuffed the unconscious Sager outside of the bar at Basil’s request.

Eloff also pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of Donald Hall, a friend of Sager. He resigned from the force as part of the plea. Sager later died from his injuries and Basil pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Officer John Cirulli/John T. Willet -- In December 2014, a federal judge sentenced former Buffalo Police Officer John Cirulli, 31, to a year of probation. Cirulli was recorded kicking and slapping black man John Willet during an arrest in April while Willet was on the ground with his hands cuffed.

Cirulli and his partner pulled up next to a car on April 14 and told Willet he was speeding. Willet then exited his vehicle and fled on foot. After catching up to the victim, and getting him in handcuffs, Cirulli hit Willet in the head twice. When Willet was in a patrol car, he was again hit in the head by Cirulli.

The incident was caught on video by a witness. Cirulli confiscated a cell phone, believing it belonged to the witness, and after determining it did not have video, returned it. Cirulli resigned from the force and pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanor civil rights violations earlier in 2014.