The Buffalo Police Department has launched an internal investigation to determine if officers acted appropriately Wednesday night when they chased a suspect into a funeral home and interrupted the wake of a 17-year-old homicide victim.
Family members, friends and officials at the funeral home are upset. They say the officers acted in an insensitive manner and failed to follow departmental procedure.
More than 100 people were in Providence Funeral Home, 1275 Sycamore St., for the wake of Carl M. Smith, a Bennett High School junior who was gunned down last Friday in an abandoned house on East Utica Street.
Witnesses said some of the officers barged in with their guns drawn.
Later Wednesday night, about 50 people who attended the wake held a protest outside Police Headquarters on Franklin Street.
"I'm very disappointed with the Buffalo Police Department," Horace Young, an employee of the funeral home, said Thursday.
"His mother is distraught. She's sitting there grieving for her child, and this just elevates that grieving to a new level," he said.
"The police ran through our funeral home, and they didn't even find a suspect," he added. "That's just insensitive. How do they justify something like that?"
Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina said the incident is being investigated by Lt. Carl Terranova of the department's Professional Standards Division.
"It's unfortunate that the respectful tranquility of a (wake) service was disturbed," Diina said. "But it appears that this fleeing felon, who was reported to have a gun, contributed to the situation."
He also said he had "a good conversation" Thursday afternoon with Smith's mother, Kim Barnes. He said he explained what happened and assured her the department will fully investigate the manner in which officers handled the chase.
The incident began at about 7 p.m., when Officer Jose Colon heard shots near Dodge Street and Wohlers Avenue and began chasing a man who had a gun.
Police said they spotted a man fitting his description outside the funeral home and saw him throw off his orange jacket, which they later found contained about seven bags of crack cocaine and one bag of marijuana.
Colon and Officer Richard Lopez followed the man into the funeral home. Witnesses said officers knocked over flowers and bumped into Smith's casket -- almost tipping it over.
The suspect was never caught.
Smith's cousin was arrested at the scene for allegedly threatening an officer.
"If any flowers were knocked down, it was the teenagers inside who went nuts," said Chief Mark Antonio. "The teenagers were throwing chairs and swearing at the officers."
"The officers used good judgment and proper police procedure," he added. "If that man had a gun, it is their duty to go in there. They should be thankful the officers were chasing a guy with a gun."
Young, the funeral home employee, said the incident has created a rift between some members of the black community and the Police Department.
"They're destroying the community's confidence in them -- especially African-Americans," he said.
On Thursday the Florida Street home belonging to Smith's family was burglarized while the family was at funeral services, according to police.
News Staff Writer T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report.