Racial profiling a lingering issue in Buffalo - The Buffalo News
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Racial profiling a lingering issue in Buffalo

Jeffrey E. Campbell II says he was walking home from a friend’s house around midnight last December when Buffalo police stopped him as he was crossing Bailey and Winspear avenues.

The police lieutenant said he was investigating a burglary.

“I look like a burglar?” Campbell responded, according to his attorney.

“Maybe. Do you?” the lieutenant asked, according to the lawyer.

Police then continued following Campbell for almost 2 miles as he headed toward his Deerfield Avenue home, the attorney said.

“Quit (expletive) harassing me,” Campbell said to the lieutenant at one point.

With that, two more officers arrived, the attorney said, and Campbell, 22, was arrested on seven counts of harassment, resisting arrest and obstructing justice, the attorney said.

Three months later, all the charges were dismissed in court. The city is now being accused of making a false arrest and using excessive force.

Police aren’t publicly saying much about the case because of the pending legal action, but one police source familiar with the incident privately said Campbell was considered suspicious because he was noticed near a yard carrying a backpack. Campbell was arrested, the officer said, because he “went off” when confronted by police, initially yelling, pacing and blocking traffic, and later fighting with and cursing at officers and generally acting belligerent.

The lieutenant, in his vehicle, followed Campbell while waiting for a second patrol car he contacted to assist in the case, the police source said.

But Campbell’s attorney sees it differently. The police lieutenant approached Campbell because the young black man fit the lieutenant’s stereotype of a burglar, he said.

“I feel this was a classic case of being a young black man in America,” said Campbell’s attorney, Roland M. Cercone.

“That he followed him for 2 miles proves that.”

Campbell is black; the lieutenant and two arresting officers are white, while a fourth officer at the scene is a black woman. The black officer was not involved in the arrest or the alleged harassment, Cercone said.

Campbell is the son of a retired police officer, Annette L. Parker, and is also one of the four teenagers whose 2009 arrests recently led to three officers being indicted for allegedly violating the teens’ civil rights by using excessive force when making the arrests.

In the 2009 case, Campbell and three friends, all 17 at the time, were charged with shooting a BB gun into a group of people on a University Heights street corner. The charges were reduced in court, and the four teens pleaded guilty to harassment. Campbell and teenager Donald J. Silmon sued the city and settled for a total of $75,000 between them – $10,000 to Campbell and $65,000 to Silmon.

In the more recent incident, all charges were dismissed in court. Cercone said that four times during court hearings, he requested that the Police Department provide him with supporting affidavits and depositions related to Campbell’s arrest. The documents were never provided, he said.

In March, Cercone made a motion to dismiss the case. “The judge turned to the prosecutor, and he said even the police officers said you can dismiss the charges,” Cercone said.

‘It may be a sadder comment’

The Dec. 2, 2013, incident occurred in E District, the same as in Campbell’s 2009 arrest, but Cercone said he does not believe that the December arrest is related to the prior incident or the resulting civil and criminal cases. Instead, he believes that the arrest has racial implications.

“I don’t think it is related,” he said. “Unfortunately, it may be a sadder comment – on being a young black man in America.”

Cercone filed a complaint of false arrest against the City of Buffalo and the Police Department in State Supreme Court and also a notice of claim with the city, which is the first step to filing a lawsuit.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said that he was aware of the complaint and that it is being investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs Division. Derenda said he could not say anything more about the case, given the pending legal action. The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association declined to comment.

In court papers, Cercone accused police of harassment and using excessive force, as well as making a false arrest.

The arresting officers, Cercone said, ordered Campbell to go up against the car. When Campbell asked why, the officer slammed his head against the car, then frisked him, Cercone said. The officer did not find anything illegal on Campbell.

The police source, however, said Campbell was out of control, yelling at and pushing officers and refusing to comply with their requests.

Campbell’s attorney said he has not confirmed the name of the lieutenant involved in the incident or the black female officer riding with him, but Cercone identified the arresting officers as Andrew J. Whiteford and Charles M. Miller, who joined the department in 2012.

The accusations by Campbell related to his December 2013 arrest are the latest in a string of recent allegations regarding conduct by Buffalo police officers.

Officers Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei were suspended three weeks ago in connection with a May 11 incident at Molly’s Pub in University Heights. The two worked as off-duty security at the bar where manager Jeffrey J. Basil is accused of pushing a man down the stairs, leaving him critically injured.

Eloff and O’Shei were suspended without pay while authorities investigate what they did – and didn’t do – at the scene.

Two weeks ago, Officer John A. Cirulli pleaded guilty to using excessive force April 19 in Riverside during an arrest recorded on a cellphone camera and uploaded to the Internet. He resigned from the police force.

Earlier that week, retired Lt. Gregory M. Kwiatkowski and Officers Joseph D. Wendel and Raymond M. Krug, now a detective, were indicted in connection with the 2009 arrest of Campbell and his three friends.

Krug and Wendel were suspended when the indictment was announced. The three pleaded not guilty when arraigned in federal court last Monday.

5-year wait faulted by cop’s lawyer

Krug’s attorney, Terrence M. Connors, is questioning why federal prosecutors waited five years to seek an indictment in that case. The statute of limitations was set to expire at the end of May. Federal officials previously said that it took time to review all the documents in the case.

“One of the things we’re going to investigate is why the delay was so long, and why it was filed on the eve of the expiration of the statute of limitation,” Connors said, adding that Krug “is a dedicated and decorated police officer.”

Kwiatkowski retired from the police force in 2011, when he was under Internal Affairs investigation for three incidents. He has contended that he was not guilty in all three instances.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com

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