The latest case to spotlight problems in the Buffalo Police Department started in 2009, with four teenagers accused of firing a BB gun into a crowd.
No one said police arrested the wrong people, but teenagers Donald J. Silmon, Jeffrey E. Campbell II, Davaughan Dantzler and Justin Ward did complain of being roughed up by the arresting officers. Two of the teenagers stopped by the emergency room for treatment. One said arresting officers shot him twice with the same BB gun the teens were accused of shooting into a crowd. The teenager said he was handcuffed in the police car at the time.
Now, five years later – with the criminal cases against the teenagers over, and a civil case against the city settled – two patrol officers and a former lieutenant, who retired in a swirl of controversy in 2011, face criminal charges that could lead to jail time if they are convicted.
In an indictment released Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo, officers Joseph Wendel and Raymond Krug and retired Lt. Gregory Kwiatkowski are charged with violating the civil rights of the four teenagers on May 31, 2009. Kwiatkowski is accused of using excessive and unnecessary force against the young men. Krug and Wendel also are accused of shooting one with the BB gun.
“These officers stand accused of shooting one of the young men who had already been placed in the police car, who had already been in handcuffs, shooting that young man two times with a BB gun,” U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said.
“There is a culture within the Buffalo Police Department that is not easy to change,” FBI Agent-in-Charge Brian P. Boetig added when discussing the indictment and recent string of high-profile disciplinary actions within the Buffalo Police Department.
”To fix things, you have to expose a lot of the bad,” Boetig said, but he then went on to praise police department brass for working with federal officials to bring charges against problem officers.
“It’s not a reflection of poor leadership,” Boetig said, referring to Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. “It is strong leadership.”
Krug, 36, who joined the police department in 2001, and Wendel, 37, who joined in 2008, were suspended from the force as soon as the indictment was returned by a grand jury, Derenda said. Initially, they have been suspended with pay, but the department is moving to halt their paychecks.
Neither Krug nor Wendel was available for comment, and the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association declined comment.
Kwiatkowski, 49, who retired in 2011 with 24 years on the force and is facing three separate cases involving allegations of improper conduct, also was not immediately available. His attorney, Andrew P. Fleming, also was not available. He previously said Kwiatkowski did nothing wrong.
“The teenage boys were allegedly involved in a series of felonious events, and a best defense for them appears to be a switch to going on the offense accusing the officers of some of the same behavior that they were accused of,” Fleming had said.
The teenagers – all 17 at the time – were arrested in what was called a drive-by BB gun shooting in University Heights. A passenger in the car fired into a crowd at Main and Custer streets just after midnight, police said. A man was hit in the chest and a woman was hit in the hand by the pellets, according to police, who said the couple suffered some swelling and pain but did not require medical treatment.
Cheektowaga police spotted the Buick Regal believed to be used in the shooting and turned the four teenagers in the car over to Buffalo police.
The four – all residents of University Heights – were charged with felony assault, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon.
In court, the four pleaded guilty in July 2009 to a lesser charge of harassment. They were sentenced to a conditional discharge, which, in at least one case, required community service.
Two of the teenagers, Silmon and Campbell, filed a civil suit against the city in April 2010 alleging their civil rights were violated by the arresting officers. Campbell alleged police slammed him down on the police car, causing injuries to his face and eye. Silmon alleged he was shot twice by police with a BB gun – once in the leg and once in the groin – while he was handcuffed. One of the BBs bounced off him, but the other remains lodged in his leg, according to medical reports.
The civil suit was settled in December 2013, when the city awarded Campbell $10,000 and Silmon $65,000.
The other teenagers – Dantzler and Ward – did not join the civil suit.
Roland M. Cercone, an attorney for Silmon and Campbell, said he wasn’t surprised the officers were indicted.
“When you shoot someone with a BB gun, that is so far over the line it is ridiculous,” he said. “To think someone can be brazen or that stupid is not someone you want on the police force.”
Cercone added that he recently took an initial step toward filing another, unrelated lawsuit against the city on behalf of Campbell, who was charged in December 2013 with harassment and disorderly conduct after questioning why a police officer was following him as he walked to his Deerfield Avenue home.
The charges were dismissed in court at the end of March, the lawyer said. It was, Cercone said, a case of police harassment. City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new case.
For two of the officers whose indictments were announced Wednesday, this is not their first time coming under investigation by their department.
Wendel was among three Buffalo police officers suspended without pay for a month for their roles in an off-duty fight in a Lancaster bar after a police awards dinner in early May 2010.
Kwiatkowski also was investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs office in connection with the fight, but the investigation ended when he retired in 2011.
“He was not involved in any altercation or misconduct,” Fleming, his attorney, said at the time.
Kwiatkowski had been on long-term paid suspension when he retired after he allegedly attacked a fellow officer the previous summer, police said.
Kwiatkowski allegedly grabbed an officer by the neck July 15 during a dispute in the briefing room of the Northeast District station. He was reportedly upset over officers requesting transfers out of his platoon.
Through his attorney, Kwiatkowski had denied any involvement in that incident.
In a 2008 incident, Officer Cariol Horne was fired following a department hearing for jumping on Kwiatkowski’s back while he was attempting to make an arrest. Horne unsuccessfully argued that she believed Kwiatkowski was choking the person he was attempting to arrest.
Kwiatkowski later won a defamation suit against Horne, and was awarded $65,000 in damages. Horne did not appear at the defamation proceedings.
The indictments of Kwiatkowski, Krug and Wendel come after two recent incidents raising questions of police conduct. Two police officers, Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei, were suspended in connection with an incident earlier this month at Molly’s Pub in University Heights. Another officer, John A. Cirulli, is expected to plead guilty to using excessive force in a prior incident that was brought to police attention when it was caught on a cell phone.
Derenda said he is saddened by the recent incidents but is satisfied that the department is doing what needs to be done.
Derenda emphasized that 99 percent of police officers are to be commended for the great job they do protecting the city and that the few abusing their authority will not be tolerated.
The badges of the few bad cops should not tarnish the badges of the other 99 percent, the commissioner said.