Judge Rules Buffalo PD Shouldn’t Have Fired Actual Good Cop Cariol Horne
Hey, let's talk about a good cop for once! I know more than one tune. In 2006, Buffalo Police Officer Cariol Horne stopped fellow cop Gregory Kwiatkowski from choking a handcuffed Black man during an arrest. Here's how Horne, who is Black, described the scene at a domestic dispute inside the home of Neal Mack and his girlfriend.
Gregory Kwiatkowski turned Neal Mack around and started choking him so then I'm like, "Greg! You're choking him," because I thought whatever happened in the house he was still upset about so when he didn't stop choking him, I just grabbed his arm from around Neal Mack's neck.
That seemed reasonable, but Kwiatkowski punched her in the nose like a common Tom Buchanan. This required surgery, but Kwiatkowski considered himself the wounded party. He claimed she jumped on his back and struck him with her hands, obstructing his arrest. Kwiatkowski later filed a defamation suit against Horne for $65,000, which he won. He only collected $20,000, though. Buffalo's not that racist.
Horne was fired from the Buffalo PD in 2008, just a few months before she could receive her pension. She'd served on the force for 19 years, but it was determined she'd put her fellow officers in danger when she tried to prevent Kwiatkowski from strangling a suspect. Kwiatkowski was promoted to lieutenant later that year.
Oh, FUCK THE POLICE! Sorry, I really intended for this to be more “good cop" than actual cop story.
This is what happens to good cops. Last year, a Springfield, Massachusetts, detective was fired for expressing mild support online for Black Lives Matter. You'll notice that most self-proclaimed “good" cops never seem to know any bad cops. They'll also swear they've never witnessed police brutality or racial discrimination on the job. They all work in Mayberry, apparently. Even if a cop isn't inclined to grotesque violence like Kwiatkowski or Derek Chauvin, there's no incentive to speak out or dare stop them. The police union is more protective of killer cops than selfless ones like Horne.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." While I don't always agree, I'm pleased to report that Horne finally received some justice Tuesday. A state judge vacated an earlier ruling that had affirmed her termination. She'll now receive her pension, benefits, and back pay.
"The legal system can at the very least be a mechanism to help justice prevail, even if belatedly," the judge, Justice Dennis E. Ward, wrote.
His ruling also invoked the deaths of Mr. Floyd and Eric Garner, a Black man from Staten Island whose dying words — "I can't breathe" — have become a national rallying cry against police brutality.
“I can't breathe" are relevant and potent words here, because Horne was moved to act in 2006 when she heard Mack say he couldn't breathe. Kwiatkowski reportedly punched a handcuffed Neal in the face repeatedly before putting him in a chokehold. This is who the Buffalo PD promoted.
"The time is always right to do right," added Justice Ward, of State Supreme Court in Erie County, paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Although Horne might've saved Neal's life that night, Kwiatkowski remained a well-compensated public threat. In 2012, he was indicted, and in 2018 he was sentenced to four months in prison on federal civil rights charges resulting from the 2009 arrest of four Black teens. Calling them “savage dogs," Kwiatkowski beat the kids senseless. He grabbed one of the handcuffed teens by the neck and slammed him headfirst into a police car. He did the same to the others, one by one. These hardened criminals were suspects in a drive-by BB gun shooting.
Last September, the city of Buffalo approved Cariol's Law, which requires that officers step in if they believe another officer's using excessive force on a suspect. It says something that the police need a whole separate law reminding them that they should stop all crimes in progress, including the ones fellow cops are committing. I do think “Cariol's Law" sounds better than the “Party Pooper Law," which is what I imagine most Buffalo cops call the law at home. There are also whistleblower protections, which should encourage more cops to do the right thing. However, a tremendous culture change is needed. Police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, literally flew their own thin blue line flag, as if they protect and serve a separate cop nation.
In a statement, Ms. Horne, 53, celebrated the decision.
"My vindication comes at a 15-year cost, but what has been gained could not be measured," she said
After she was fired, Horne worked odd jobs, mostly recently as a truck driver. She's even lived out of her car, which means she was homeless. The moral arc might bend toward justice but too many lives are broken along the way. The Buffalo Police might not have deserved Horne, but Buffalo citizens needed this legitimately good cop.
Follow Stephen Robinson on Twitter.
Looking for someone to give that cash to? Why not us?
Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."