BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court alleges that two Buffalo police officers beat a man over the head while he stood on a street corner taking video of police activity down the street.
Dean Taylor, 60, of Box Avenue, alleges that on Sept. 1, he was riding his bike on Buffalo’s East Side when he heard police sirens as officers were responding to a report of gunshots. While standing at the corner of Kerr Street and Fougeron Street, Taylor pulled out his phone and began filming police.
“He wasn’t being obstructionist, he was just standing there,” said Taylor’s attorney, Leonard D. Zaccagnino. “That’s all he was doing: standing there and filming on his cell phone.”
Zaccagnino said police officers told Taylor, who is black, to stop recording video on his cell phone, and when Taylor declined, the two police officers -- identified in the lawsuit as Officer Kyle T. Moriarity, who is white, and Officer Christopher Bridgett, who is black, “attacked, assaulted, and seized plaintiff without just cause or provocation...struck the plaintiff numerous times, dragged him to a police vehicle and handcuffed him behind his back,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The one officer approaches him, starts hitting him in the head,” Zaccagnino said in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News. “He ends up dropping to the ground. Then there’s about three or four other police officers that come up, they drag him to the car.”
Zaccagnino said Taylor was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, harassment and disorderly conduct, but it is his understanding that the charges were dismissed by City Court Judge Andrew C. LoTempio. A clerk in Buffalo City Court said there was no public record of the case’s disposition.
The lawsuit states that Taylor suffered injuries to his head, neck, back, spine, wrists and shoulders.
Michael DeGeorge, who serves as spokesman for both Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Buffalo Police Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.
In court papers, city lawyer Maeve E. Huggins said the city denies the allegations and states that “the use of force, if any, by the defendants and/or employees and/or agents was justified, necessary, and reasonable under the totality of circumstances.”
Huggins states that whatever injuries Taylor suffered “were in whole or in part a result of the plaintiff’s own illegal, reckless, and/or culpable conduct.”
But the lawsuit -- which names the city, the Police Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood and the officers as defendants -- states that the city and its police department “were on notice, through its receipt of prior complaints and by the service of prior lawsuits, that defendants Moriarity and Bridgett engaged in a pattern or practice or using unconstitutionally excessive force in dealing with the public.”
A review of court records shows that Moriarity was also named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed in 2018 against the city in which Buffalo man James Kistner alleges that he was falsely arrested and charged with a felony after police hit him with an SUV. A city attorney, on behalf of Moriarity and other officers, denied the charges in legal filings.
Earlier this week, the Assembly passed the Right to Monitor Act, which confirms the public's right to record public law enforcement activity as Taylor was doing.
If signed into law, the act “would codify rulings of many federal circuit courts, and the courts of this state, that members of the public have the right to record activity in their neighborhoods,” according to a news release by Assembly Democrats.
Thomas Burton, an attorney for the Police Benevolent Association, said he was not aware of the lawsuit filed by Taylor. When asked whether officers Moriarity and Bridget would like to give their sides of the story, he told the I-Team to cite the city’s official legal response from Huggins in court papers.
7 Eyewitness News has requested body camera footage of the incident, and has yet to hear back from the city on that public records request.
Moriarity, the officer in Taylor’s case, was videotaped at a protest last week helping to arrest a protester in Niagara Square. A police spokesman gave no indication that Moriarity was on any sort of suspension after the allegations in the Taylor case.
“I have all the respect in the world for the police, I really do,” said Zaccagnino. “It’s a very difficult job and I understand it, but sometimes they go overboard. There’s got to be guidelines. There’s got to be overseeing of what is going on. And if it ends up with injury and things of that nature, then it’s got to be looked at.”
Zaccagnino filed the lawsuit in late February, and he acknowledges that the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and nationwide protests against police brutality have changed the atmosphere around the topic.
“Everything that’s happened recently, in my view, just magnifies the issue,” he said. “You know the fact that my client is black, does that play into it? I mean obviously I cannot read the officers’ minds, but it certainly gives one pause.”