Under fire by local civil rights leaders, Cheektowaga police are moving forward with plans for a minority recruitment drive.
Meanwhile, lawsuits were filed Tuesday by two African-Americans alleging racial discrimination by town officers.
Two African-Americans, one a 70-year-old woman and the other a 23-year-old college student, filed suit claiming false arrest against the department after the charges police filed against them were dropped in Town Court. The woman also alleges police used excessive force.
Sarah Randolph, 70, of Cheektowaga says Officer Frederick Roll followed her when she pulled into a 7-Eleven parking lot at about 1 a.m. July 13, as she headed home from work as a cleaner at a local college. When she got out of her car, Roll told her he was writing her a ticket for stopping her car too far past the crosswalk line at an intersection, her lawyer said.
When Randolph got back into her car, Roll asked her to shut the car door. She refused, saying it was too hot to sit in a closed car.
"She said, 'I'm no criminal.' She had worked all day, she was too hot, and she needed the fresh air," said her attorney, Roland Cercone.
At that point, witnesses say, Roll put on a pair of black gloves, grabbed her by the neck and dragged her into the police car, according to Cercone. She remembers being pushed and kicked into the patrol car, he added.
The charge against Randolph was dismissed during a nonjury trial a few weeks ago by Town Justice Ronald Kmiotek.
In the other case, Russell M. Gillison, 23, a college student who lives in Lancaster, says Officer Michael Sisti pulled him over at about 10 p.m. July 28 at Bordon and Losson roads. Sisti arrested him and impounded his car but refused to tell him why he had been arrested, according to Cercone, who is also acting as Gillison's lawyer.
When the young man's father, the Rev. William Gillison, showed up and demanded to know what the charge was, police said he had been charged with disorderly conduct for making an obscene gesture at an officer.
The charge was thrown out on a pretrial motion before Town Justice Thomas Kolbert several months ago, Cercone said.
Cheektowaga Police Chief Bruce Chamberlin said he is not familiar with the Gillison case. He said the department is investigating Randolph's complaint, but Cercone has notified police that Randolph will no longer cooperate with the internal probe.
"We've been hampered, so I'm not sure how we're going to close things out. We weren't able to do it without talking to the person who had the problem," Chamberlin said.
Cercone, a former town prosecutor, represents a coalition of local civil rights leaders claiming town police unfairly target minorities. Coalition leaders were among the 100 or so minorities who attended a Town Board meeting Monday night to draw attention to their allegations of racial profiling in Cheektowaga. Town officials deny the charges.
Cheektowaga officials said they are planning a major campaign to recruit African-Americans to the all-white Police Department. The drive is part of a larger drive to attract stronger applicants to the Police Department, Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak said.
The upcoming drive will include a poster campaign, something that has never been done before, Gabryszak said.
Questions were raised Monday regarding the absence of minorities on the police force. Police said they've tried to recruit minorities in the past, but with no success.
"There is an effort to try to reach out to get minority applicants," Gabryszak said.
"The community is changing," he said, referring to the town's small but growing minority population that some peg at 5 percent of the approximately 100,000 residents. There were about 1,000 African-Americans in 1990, census figures show.
Gabryszak also said Tuesday that the Town Board and department heads will be undergoing "cultural diversity" training.
Cercone announced Monday that the coalition has opened up two phone lines to take complaints of racial discrimination and profiling in Cheektowaga.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 120 people had called with personal stories, according to the Rev. Darius Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church. Volunteers are recording the accounts, which are being forwarded to Cercone.
"(The number of callers) doesn't surprise me," Gabryszak said Tuesday. "You give phone numbers and tell people to call, sure they will, whether or not discrimination occurred. I'm not saying everyone that is calling may not have a legitimate reason to call, but also there are those calling that may not have a legitimate complaint."
Pridgen said the coalition also is considering how to deal with complaints involving the Walden Galleria, about half of all received.
News Northtowns Reporter Dick Dawson contributed to this report.