A departmental disciplinary hearing for Buffalo Police Officer Cariol J. Horne took a surprising turn Monday when her attorney Anthony L. Pendergrass made an unsubstantiated accusation that Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson has a history of using drugs.
The charges were immediately denied by department counsel Diane O'Gorman, who called the accusation "absolutely groundless and slander, actually."
Gipson was shocked and upset by the remarks but didn't want to comment late Monday afternoon.
Pendergrass alleged that Gipson was showing favoritism toward Horne's accusers -- fellow Buffalo police officers -- because, according to Pendergrass, Gipson was spared arrest on drug charges some years ago.
Horne's chief lawyer told the news media during the first day of public testimony that Officer Ann Vanyo let Gipson "walk" after confronting him years ago in a Buffalo crack house.
Pendergrass said he and Kenneth Nixon, Horne's other attorney, plan to call police officers to testify both about the "common knowledge" of the commissioner's alleged drug addiction and the alleged favor Vanyo did for Gipson while he was running Erie County's two jails for the Sheriff's Department some years ago.
In July 1998, Gipson left the Buffalo Police Department after 27 years to serve as head of the county jail system. He was named Buffalo police commissioner in early 2006.
Pendergrass and Nixon, who took up Horne's case after the police labor union backed away from representing her in September, told disciplinary hearing officer Thomas Renaldo they plan to call a number of police officers, including Vanyo and Officer Gregory Kwiatkowski to back up their claims about an alleged conspiracy against Horne.
The disciplinary hearing resumes today.
On Oct. 16, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph D. Mintz ordered the department, for the first time in its history, to stage a public disciplinary hearing for Horne, 39, who in January was charged with a dozen departmental violations for the Nov. 1, 2006, incident with Kwiatkowski.
Horne, a nearly 20-year veteran of the force, is on paid disability status. She maintains she was injured in a fight with the much larger Kwiatkowski as she intervened for a man she claims Kwiatkowski had in a choke hold after a domestic incident in the 700 block of Walden Avenue.
Renaldo will rule on Horne's future with the department. Horne, who faces insubordination and other charges, claimed on the witness stand Monday that Kwiatkowski beat her after she stopped him from choking the civilian.
Horne told the hearing officer she was fired in June 2000 because senior officers falsely accused her of being absent without leave. She said an arbitrator ordered her reinstated with full back pay five years later, a decision upheld by the state appellate courts.
Horne and Kwiatkowski have countersued each other for defamation over public statements they have made about the on-duty incident. Kwiatkowski's attorney, Andrew P. Fleming, monitored a portion of Monday's hearing.
Kwiatkowski testified last summer. He is on a long-planned hunting trip and will not be back in town this week, Fleming said.
Also Monday, Kevin Ratajaczak, a Postal Service carrier, testified that he alerted police after the male resident of 707 Walden Ave. began arguing with his live-in girlfriend about the government check Ratajaczak had delivered the morning of Nov. 1, 2006, the incident that sparked the domestic dispute and police call.
Pendergrass complained to Renaldo that the Police Department probe by its Professional Standards Division had only obtained testimony from five "white" officers, including Kwiatkowski and Vanyo, before Horne was charged. Horne is black.
Pendergrass told the hearing officer that at least 12 male African-American police officers responded to 707 Walden after an officer-in-trouble call was put out Nov. 1, 2006, but none was questioned about the Horne-Kwiatkowski fight.
Pendergrass contended that Horne is a victim of departmental "totalitarianism, fascism, racism and sexism."