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City settles 9 suits against police; Largest claim totaled $140,000

A handcuffed man whose ankle was broken when his foot was grabbed and twisted by a member of the Buffalo Police Department.

A man who was struck in the head with a police radio by an officer who claimed he didn't know he was holding it.

A 57-year-old woman who was physically removed from a police station after she became upset when officers would not give her a copy of a report.

These three people, along with six others, will receive settlements from the City of Buffalo resulting from actions of members of the Buffalo Police Department. The settlements were approved Tuesday by city lawmakers.

The nine settlements are among 15 personal injury cases that were settled.

In total, settling the police-related cases will cost the city $215,500.

The largest settlement the Common Council approved was for $140,000 with Brian D. Golebieski of Orchard Park for an incident that occurred in the parking lot of a Delaware Avenue apartment building in December 2006.

Golebieski's ankle seemed to have been turned "counterclockwise until the point it [snapped]," Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera said in describing what led to the legal claim against the city.

Rivera, chairman of the Council's Claims Committee, which is in charge of reviewing proposed settlements, said Golebieski's injury could have only happened if his foot "was grabbed and turned."

"This is alarming because this is just brutality," Rivera said during a discussion about the case at last week's Claims Committee meeting.

"I'm speechless. I'm just speechless," Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said last week.

The incident began after a parking dispute and ended up in a confrontation with police, as well as three surgeries and "displaced bone fragments" for Golebieski.

Here are the other cases the city agreed to settle:

*Patricia Bozeman was forcibly removed from a Buffalo police station Jan. 3, 2007, after she had gone there to report her vehicle stolen. The first time Bozeman went to the station, she was not allowed to make a report because she didn't possess the proper information. It was upon her return that she was removed, though police claim she was belligerent and argumentative. She will receive $3,000.

*Sean Darling will receive $6,000 to settle a case alleging police used excessive force and violated his constitutional rights.

Darling, who had regular contact with police, according to city officials, claimed police entered his home without a warrant in July 2008 after allegations were made about him that he violated an order of protection. Darling alleged police struck him in the head with a flashlight or a nightstick during the search.

There was also an August 2009 incident in which Darling called police and asked to have another person removed from his home, after which Darling had an altercation with officers.

*Todd DeWind will get $15,000 for injuries suffered in June 2007 near Franklin and Chippewa streets. DeWind alleged police struck him in the eye with a blunt object. The city couldn't get any police officers to come forward and say "whether there was any interaction whatsoever," Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball said.

*Keon Hart was shot in the elbow as he fled police during a September 2007 incident on Newburgh Avenue. Police were called to remove Hart from a location, and he was fired upon twice by police as he tried to flee. Hart, who will receive a $9,000 settlement, is currently incarcerated, city officials said.

*Two women who called police to have a man removed from their Highgate Avenue home got into an altercation with police after they didn't like how police were treating the man. They were arrested but alleged police used excessive force in restraining them. The women, Theodoris and Jerris Rainey, will receive a $10,000 settlement.

The officer involved in this incident, who was involved in a similar situation, has since retired, officials said. The date of this incident could not be determined.

*A couple in their 60s, whose home was subject to a March 2008 search by police armed with a "no knock" warrant to look for drugs, will receive a $7,500 settlement. No drugs were found at the home of the couple, who had been living there for 40 years. Denise Woods, who uses a wheelchair, sued the city. Some property damage occurred during the execution of the warrant and the search, city officials said.

*Richard Hadala will receive a $5,000 settlement for a November 2009 incident at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo in which he said he was struck in the head by a police officer holding a radio.

*Andrzej Bandzul will receive $20,000 for injuries he suffered after he was struck by a Buffalo police cruiser while riding his bicycle on Hertel Avenue on Sept. 18, 2007. Bandzul was thrown from his bike and ingested glass fragments, Ball said.

In addition to the police-related claims, lawmakers also approved a $234,000 settlement with a Cheektowaga woman who was injured in a January 2006 car crash involving a city vehicle.

Tina Pawlicki was driving west on Walden Avenue near Sumner Place, just east of Bailey Avenue, on Jan. 13, 2006, when her vehicle was struck by a city vehicle, according to court papers.

Pawlicki had been seeking a $1.1 million settlement.

She suffered permanent injuries, according to court papers, including "severe nervous shock" and other damage to her nervous system. She also suffered "pretty significant back injuries," according to Ball, who said Pawlicki required surgery including bone grafting and the insertion of plates.

Two men who were in a parked car struck by a city vehicle will share a $60,000 settlement in the case.

Pedro Ferrer and Pedro Luis Ferrer, brothers who share the same name, were sitting in a parked vehicle that was struck by a Parking Violations Bureau vehicle in January 2009 on Johnson Park, according to court papers and city officials.

The city employee driving the vehicle put the car in reverse instead of drive and backed into the parked vehicle, Ball said. The two men required "relatively substantial treatment" for their injuries, he said.

The city typically seeks to settle cases where it believes it would end up spending more if the matter proceeded to trial, officials said.

Ball said there are a number of police-related cases because the department has a great deal of interaction with the public. He also noted that several of the cases are around five years old and that city officials "have made progress in improving the professionalism of the Police Department."

Smith said he understands the nature of police work but has concerns about the actions of officers in some of these circumstances.

"In some cases, it was intentional," Smith said.

But, he said, he also realizes the settlements are made in the taxpayers' interests.

"If some of these went to trial," Smith said, "it would [cost] so much more."

email: abesecker@buffnews.com