Bystanders say Buffalo Police used excessive and brutal force during a conflict that erupted Friday afternoon at the corner of Herkimer and West Ferry streets on the city's West Side.
The confrontation began outside Island Mini-Mart, a corner store, when two young men say they asked a police officer to move her vehicle, which was blocking theirs. It quickly escalated into a physical conflict between more than a dozen police officers and a handful of civilians, during which people were slammed against cars, hit and attacked by police dogs, bystanders say.
When it was over, two young men, ages 19 and 16, were taken to the hospital, with one suffering from badly bruised ribs and the other a mild concussion.
"It's terrible what they did to my kids," said Kathy Coleman, mother of Trey and Romeo Donaldson. Coleman has contacted a lawyer and plans to pursue legal action.
Michael J. DeGeorge, spokesman for the Buffalo Police Department, said police in the area were pulling over a vehicle that they thought may have been connected to a bank robbery. When police pulled over the vehicle, things became chaotic, he said. DeGeorge said he is not aware of any injuries, and that the matter is being investigated.
If anyone has a complaint regarding police conduct, they can file it through the Internal Affairs Unit, either by phone, online or at the station.
Ten to 12 people, both participants and bystanders, described the incident in essentially the same way. Many of them also recorded the confrontation on their cellphones. This is the version of events told by bystanders and participants:
Trey Donaldson, 19, was leaving the store with his brother, David Smith, 22. The two had parked their car on the side of the road, and a police car was blocking it.
Donaldson said he asked a female officer in the car if she could move so that he could get his car out. The officer responded using several curse words, witnesses said, and told him she would not move the car.
The officer then told the two to get back in the car. When they asked if there was a problem, she got out of the car and pulled out a gun, they claimed. Smith said he repeatedly asked the female officer, "What is the nature of your inquiry?" because he did not know why she was pointing a gun at them.
At that point, several other officers approached and Smith ran from the scene. Donaldson remained there. He kept asking the officers what the problem was; he did not put up a fight as the officers handcuffed him, hit him and slammed him up against the car, the witnesses told The News.
Police were "treating us with no respect, like if we were animals," Donaldson said.
Two passengers in the back of the car, one of them a pregnant woman, got out of the car to ask what was going on. The police began attacking them, too, bystanders said.
When the confrontation was over, Donaldson's shirt was ripped, he had scratches across his collarbone and his ribs were badly bruised.
Donaldson's younger brother, Romeo, 16, approached the scene and began recording what was happening with his cellphone. When he got close to one officer, the officer ripped the cellphone out of his hand and broke it in half. The officer then hit Romeo on the head.
Neighbors who witnessed the incident said police dogs were biting several people, and officers were slamming people against cars and beating them.
Smith's girlfriend, who is pregnant, was reportedly slammed against the hood of a car. Another young neighborhood girl also approached the scene to ask what was happening and to tell the cops they were violating people's rights. An officer reportedly threatened to spray her with Mace and sic dogs on her, bystanders said.
The police took Donaldson into custody. He was issued an appearance ticket for charges of obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct. Jonathan Smith, who approached the scene to ask what was going on, was also detained for disorderly conduct.
Those involved and bystanders said the confrontation was the latest in a number of incidents of police brutality in the area.
Smith and others said they are well-versed in their constitutional rights so that they can defend themselves if police act with unnecessary force. Still, they say, expressing their rights seemed to make the officers angrier.
"They ask why we run from the cops," Donaldson said.