The girlfriend of a man killed in 2011 after being hit by Taser fire from Lancaster police is suing the town and several officers who were on the scene at the time of the incident.
Sarah Faltisco filed the lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court Western District as administrator of the estate of Nicholas A. Koscielniak, who was the father of their young son, Nixon Koscielniak.
She is seeking $4.5 million and punitive damages.
The Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Koscielniak, who was 27, died not from the Taser fire, but from “excited delirium” triggered by a large amount of cocaine in his system and heart disease.
A grand jury declined to indict Officers Brian T. Firestone and Michael J. Godzalski for their actions in a struggle with Koscielniak in the early morning of Aug. 30 at a home in the Village of Lancaster.
But the complaint prepared by attorney Jeffrey B. Novak of the Hogan Willig law firm states that Firestone, Godzalski, Officer Stacy Hendel and Lt. Mitchell Converse, as well as five other unnamed officers, used unreasonable and excessive force against Koscielniak, who was not armed and had not threatened the officers.
The officers hogtied Koscielniak and pinned him to the ground by stepping on his shoulders, before firing Tasers about a dozen times, according to court papers.
The lawsuit also alleges that the town “had a policy and custom in place that tolerated the use of excessive force to subdue suspects” and that “encouraged excessive force in detaining suspects.”
The actions against Koscielniak “were part of a pattern and policy” of the town to “physically batter detainees and deprive detainees of their health and lives ...”
The court papers further accused the town of negligence in its hiring of the police officers and in failing to train them properly in the use of nonlethal weapons, including Tasers.
Town Attorney John Dudziak and Town Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli could not be reached on Friday to comment.
In an interview, Novak questioned the findings of the medical examiner, saying other cases involving Taser firings around the country have been linked to deaths due to so-called excited delirium.
“The family isn’t satisfied with the medical examiner’s report,” said Novak.
Novak also maintained that officers could have taken more appropriate measures in handling Koscielniak.
“It’s a problem we’re seeing in terms of some law enforcement officers in the area stepping outside constitutional bounds and using excessive force,” he said.
A law enforcement investigation into Koscielniak’s death revealed that Lancaster officers responded at about 5:30 a.m. to an Oakwood Avenue home where Koscielniak was fighting with another man in the garage.
The man begged police to help him, and Koscielniak, who was 6 feet, 3½ inches tall and weighed 276 pounds, was described as acting combative and paranoid.
The officers fired their Tasers multiple times, and Koscielniak was able to rip out the probes from one of the firings.
It’s unclear whether any of the Taser firings actually delivered the electrical charge that is supposed to stun a target for a brief time so that officers can restrain the person.
Officers maintained that they did not use the Taser on Koscielniak when he was restrained.
Koscielniak became unresponsive during an ambulance ride and was pronounced dead in Sisters Hospital – St. Joseph Campus, Cheektowaga.
A toxicology test showed large amounts of cocaine, as well as marijuana and alcohol, in his system, and an autopsy found he had hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
In addition to his son and girlfriend, Koscielniak is survived by his mother, Lori, who is not part of the lawsuit.
Lori Koscielniak has her own legal representation, Novak said.