A lawsuit claiming that Cheektowaga police forced their way into a Depew apartment and used excessive force against two women inside has been settled out of court.
The lawsuit, filed by Kathryn and Melissa Woods – who are mother and daughter – was resolved through mediation, according to a court document filed Aug. 15. A trial had been scheduled to begin Aug. 23 in U.S. District Court.
Attorneys from both sides declined to comment, and settlement terms weren’t filed with the court.
The lawsuit originally named the Town of Cheektowaga, the Police Department, Officers Neil C. Held and Bradford Hebeler, and other department employees identified only as John and Jane Doe. The Woodses had sought $18 million in damages.
Last fall, responding to a defense motion to have the complaint dismissed, chief U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny dismissed actions against the town and the police department. But claims about unwarranted entry and excessive force by the officers remained as the case proceeded, with the Woodses seeking $5.5 million in damages.
Police were called to a George Urban Boulevard apartment on Feb. 13, 2010, after Melissa Woods had an argument with the father of her youngest child, violating an order of protection. She had driven away by the time officer Held arrived, but was later found at her mother’s apartment in Depew.
According to court documents, Kathryn Woods claimed that, after she answered the door and asked Held if he had a warrant, he pushed past her into the apartment. He was followed by Hebeler, who had responded to his call for backup.
The defense argued that the warrantless entry was justified. Held, who had been told that Melissa Woods was intoxicated, testified that he believed her “welfare was in question.”
Both officers went to an upstairs bedroom, where Melissa Woods was sleeping with her child. Kathryn testified that when she reached out to protect the child, Held grabbed her by the throat and threatened her with arrest, as well.
Her hands cuffed behind her back, Melissa Woods walked downstairs with Held behind her.
The officers claimed that she was struggling and kicking Held; her mother testified there was no resistance and that Held pushed her down the stairs and kneed her in the back. Both women said Hebeler saw it happen and failed to intervene.
Held left the Cheektowaga Police Department in 2010 to work for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. Hebeler still works for the town.