An ex-Buffalo police officer who was terminated nearly 15 years ago after intervening while her colleague carried out a chokehold on a handcuffed Black man will receive a full pension, a New York judge ruled on Wednesday, April 14.
Cariol Horne was fired, faced departmental charges and was left without a pension after she forcibly removed her white colleague from a handcuffed Black man he’d placed in a chokehold in 2006.
“To her credit, Officer Horne did not merely stand by, but instead sought to intervene, despite the penalty she ultimately paid for doing so. … She saved a life that day, and history will now record her for the hero she is,” New York Supreme Court Judge Dennis Ward wrote in the ruling.
Horne won a lawsuit Tuesday when the the New York State Supreme Court vacated a previous ruling that upheld her firing.
“The City of Buffalo has recognized the error and has acknowledged the need to undo an injustice from the past. The legal system can at the very least be the mechanism to help justice prevail, even if belatedly,” Ward said.
“While the Eric Garners and the George Floyds of the world never had a chance for a ‘do-over,’ at least here the correction can be done.”
In November 2006, Horne responded to a call at 707 Walden in Buffalo, to help fellow officer Gregory Kwiatkowski after a woman reported that her ex-boyfriend, David Neal Mack, had stolen her $626 Social Security check.
By the time the then-38-year-old Horne arrived at the scene, she said Mack had already been placed under arrest by Kwiatkowski after a domestic dispute occurred inside of the home.
Horne said Kwiatkowski had been punching the handcuffed man, and was choking him when she intervened after hearing him say he couldn’t breathe. She physically removed Kwiatkowski’s arm from around Mack’s neck.
“I yelled, ‘Greg, you’re choking him,’ and he didn’t stop,” Horne recounted during an interview in June. “I grabbed his arm from around his neck.”
She also told CBS last year, “Neal Mack looked like he was about to die. … So had I not stepped in, he possibly could have. He was handcuffed and being choked.”
According to Horne, Kwiatkowski responded to her intervention by punching her in the face. There is no recording of the incident.
Horne and Kwiatkowski engaged in a physical conflict after she was punched, according to a witness.
She was fired in 2008 after 19 years on the force when an arbitration process found that she put the lives of the 10 officers on the scene in danger. Horne filed multiple appeals but lost each time.
Ward said his decision to overturn the previous ruling was based partially on new legislation signed into law by Mayor Byron Brown in October called Cariol’s Law.
The law makes it a crime for an officer not to intervene when another officer is using excessive force. Because of the decision, Horne will receive a full pension, back pay, and benefits.
Kwiatkowski was cleared of wrongdoing in the incident and went on to sue Horne and her attorney for defamation, ultimately winning a $65,000 judgment.
In 2009, Kwiatkowski was sentenced to four months in federal prison following a 2009 civil rights violation involving four Black teenagers. Other officers told prosecutors Kwiatkowski called the teens savages and slammed their heads into the patrol car one by one. He admitted in 2018 that he “lost control” of himself during the encounter.
Ward said his support for Horne had grown in recent months “in the wake of a renewed national and local awareness of the problem of excessive force, and with police officers who intervene now being seen as heroes.”
The decision comes as the murder trial for former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes last may, advances through weeks of testimony.
“My vindication comes at a 15-year cost, but what has been gained could not be measured,” she said in a statement to the New York Times. “I never wanted another police officer to go through what I had gone through for doing the right thing.”
The 53-year-old Horne, now a mother of five and grandmother of 13, was just months away from becoming eligible for a full pension when she was fired.
“Now I am able to help them be where they should be financially,” she said after the ruling, “because when when I took a dive into financial ruin, they went in there with me.”