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Driver alleges police brutality; witness refutes that version of events

A North Buffalo man claims he was beaten by two off-duty police officers after a minor fender-bender on Tacoma Avenue near Delaware Avenue Jan. 18.

Appolinaire Lekeuneu, 38, of Tacoma Avenue, alleges he suffered back and arm injuries as the result of an attack by Buffalo Police Officer Mark A. Swaggard and Kevin Durham, a jail deputy for the Erie County Sheriff's Department.

Swaggard and Durham deny the allegations, saying Lekeuneu overreacted and screamed at them when they asked him to move his damaged vehicle so cars and buses could get by.

A tow truck driver who also said he witnessed the incident told The Buffalo News that the officers acted properly.

The confrontation erupted about 4 p.m., after Lekeuneu's car was involved in a minor collision with a car driven by Swaggard's girlfriend, police said. Police said Swaggard's 14-year-old daughter was a passenger in the car.

Lekeuneu said he was grabbed, shoved into a parked car and slammed down, face-first onto the pavement. Police said Lekeuneu was briefly put into handcuffs, but he was not arrested, and no traffic charges were filed against him.

Internal investigators from the Buffalo Police Professional Standards Division are looking into the incident. Lekeuneu also has complained to the FBI and the New York Civil Liberties Union. He said he has spoken to an attorney about filing a lawsuit, and also plans to file a complaint with the Sheriff's Department.

Swaggard and Durham said they were trying to calm the situation after noticing the accident had backed up traffic. Swaggard lives on Tacoma, and Durham said he was visiting relatives on Tacoma.

"We were just trying to calm the situation down, and [Lekeuneu] kept screaming, 'Kill me, kill me, the police are going to kill me,' " Durham said.

"All I can say about it is, 'We're investigating these issues,' " said Inspector Patrick Stafford, who heads internal investigations for the Buffalo Police.

Noel Marin, a tow truck driver who works at a nearby Delaware Avenue collision shop, said he witnessed the incident and saw no brutality by the officers.

"I saw the whole thing and nobody beat him up," Marin said. "[Lekeuneu] was screaming that they were trying to kill him, and they weren't doing a thing to him."

Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard said his department will look into the allegations after Lekeuneu files a complaint.


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