Officials in Buffalo, New York, want the New York Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation into the firing of Cariol Horne, a Black former police officer who was fired because she intervened after a white officer placed a suspect in a chokehold.
Horne had been a member of Buffalo Police for 19 years until she was fired in 2008, two years after the incident. In November 2006, she responded to a call about an officer in trouble at a home and headed to the scene. Horne told WKBW when she got there, former Buffalo Police officer Gregory Kwiatkowski was assaulting Neal Mack. Mack had been involved in a domestic dispute and was already under arrest, according to Horne.
“He was handcuffed in the front and he was sideways and being punched in the face by Gregory Kwiatkowski,” Horne recalled in 2014.
Horne and other officers at the scene removed Mack from the house but that did not deter Kwiatkowski.
“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,” Horne continued.
After she grabbed Kwiatkowski, Horne said, he took his anger out on her.
“He comes up and punches me in the face and I had to have my bridge replaced,” Horne said in the 2014 interview.
Horne was eventually cited for obstruction and accused of “jumping on officer Kwiatkowski’s back and/or striking him with her hands.” Even though Kwiatkowski denied Horne jumped on his back, she was fired in 2008 after an internal investigation. In 2018 Kwiatkowski would be sentenced to prison in an excessive force case involving four teenagers.
“The message was sent that you don’t cross that blue line and so some officers -— many officers don’t,” said Horne told CNN on Tuesday. At the time of her firing, Horne had been with BPD for 19 years and only had one more year left before she qualified for a pension. Since she was terminated, the benefit was revoked. Since then, Horne has struggled with homelessness, mental illness and financial issues, according to her website.
Horne’s plight has received renewed attention due to the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died while in police custody on Memorial Day. A bystander filmed former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness. Chauvin and three other officers were fired and charged for Floyd’s death. She has received support from the Buffalo Common Council — Buffalo’s name for its city council — which asked for a meeting with New York Attorney General Letitia James. James is the first African-American to be elected as state attorney general in New York history. Council President Darius Pridgen told National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” he was on a call with James’ office on June 16 to request an investigation of Horne’s case.
“You know, I think ultimately, especially as we look at, you know, the climate and atmosphere right now and the attention, is that [Horne] should at least be able to receive her pension and the year that she lost as a police officer so that she can, at the least, be able to receive her pension,” Pridgen said.
The council also called for an investigation in a resolution. Another resolution outlined a police officer’s duty to intervene.
“We had on our books a duty-to-intervene policy, which basically says that if an officer sees someone in distress, regardless of whether it is by a fellow officer, they have a duty to intervene and — just as Cariol did,” Pridgen told NPR.
He added, “And because, more than likely, that was not on the books as a policy then, Cariol suffered the ultimate fate, and that is the loss of her job. And so now we’re saying, train these officers. They should know — something happens, regardless of whether it is one of your colleagues, stop and help. Your job is not just to protect. The job is to serve.”
A petition calling for the reinstatement of Horne’s pension has received more than 180,000 signatures. She also has received more than $140,000 in donations via GoFundMe. Horne has become an activist and is working on Cariol’s Law, a bill with stipulations that include requiring officers to intervene when they witness misconduct and protection of whistleblowers from retaliation.
“I don’t want any officer to go through what I have gone through,” Horne told CNN. “I had five children and I lost everything but [the suspect] did not lose his life. So, if I have nothing else to live for in life, at least I can know that I did the right thing and that [he] still breathes.”