John T. Willet, the man beaten by a Buffalo police officer after he was handcuffed and facedown on the ground, suffered neck injuries in the attack and is under a doctor’s care, his lawyer said Thursday.
“He is holding up pretty well, but he is experiencing neck spasms that we believe were caused by the officer placing his knee on John’s neck,” attorney Phillip Dabney Jr. said. “He is under the care of a specialist as a result of the injuries from that night.”
A YouTube video of the April 19 incident at Philadelphia and Ontario streets in the city’s Riverside section shows the officer pinning Willet to the ground by placing a knee on his head and neck area while other officers struggle to place him in handcuffs.
After Willet was handcuffed, Officer John A. Cirulli allegedly punched and kicked the 22-year-old Buffalo man in the head, according to police sources who identified Cirulli as the attacker. Cirulli has been suspended without pay on charges of violating department rules on excessive force.
The five other officers at the scene remain on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs Division investigation. The FBI is also reviewing the incident to determine whether Willet’s civil rights were violated.
At points during the video, recorded on a cellphone by a bystander and posted last weekend by Cop Block of Western New York, Willet can be heard screaming “Officer,” “Please stop,” and “Let me go.” But then he stops screaming. It is at that point, authorities believe, that Cirulli’s knee was on Willet’s neck, making it impossible for him to speak.
Dabney said that the pressure of the officer’s knee on his client’s neck prevented him from crying out.
Dabney said the FBI has not yet interviewed his client. Willet has already been interviewed by Internal Affairs Division investigators.
“We believe the FBI is still reviewing the case and has not made any determinations,” Dabney said of the civil rights aspects, adding that he and his client are discussing whether to file a notice of claim against the city with the intention of pursuing a civil lawsuit seeking unspecified damages.
Police charged Willet with possession of heroin, cocaine and marijuana and intent to sell some of the drugs, in addition to resisting arrest, following a car and foot chase that night.
Dabney said that prior to April 19, his client had not had any run-ins with the law since he was a teenager. “That was six years ago,” Dabney said, and those run-ins were of a minor nature.