A man who was hit and kicked by a Buffalo police officer filed a notice of claim Tuesday seeking $500,000 in damages for his injuries and violation of his constitutional rights.
The claim, filed on behalf of John T. Willet, accused the officer and two other officers of using excessive force in arresting him on drug charges following a chase April 19 in the city’s Riverside section.
A video of Willet’s arrest, recorded on a phone by a bystander, shows then-Officer John A. Cirulli kicking and slapping the handcuffed 22-year-old Willet while he was facedown on the sidewalk and yelling for Cirulli to stop hitting him.
It also shows several other officers standing around Willet during the incident.
Cirulli, 31, resigned last month and pleaded guilty in federal court to two misdemeanor counts of deprivation of rights under color of law for the incident on Philadelphia and Ontario streets and for also hitting Willet in the face as Willet sat in a police car.
Cirulli could face up to two years in prison when sentenced Sept. 24.
The claim named three police officers – Cirulli, Nicholas A. Militello and Lt. Jeffrey Rinaldo – and the Police Department and the City of Buffalo.
Phillip Dabney Jr., Willet’s attorney, said his client is seeking $500,000 for the injuries to the head, neck and lower abdomen that he suffered that night, as well as the violation of his constitutional rights to be secure from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
He said Willet is still receiving medical treatment for a neck sprain.
The claim alleges that Willet was injured as a result of “the intentional … negligent careless acts and omissions” of the police officers during the 11:40 p.m. arrest.
It accuses the officers of injuring Willet without cause or justification by hitting and kicking him. It also accuses Rinaldo and the department of negligence in their supervision of Cirulli and Militello.
Besides physical injuries, the claim contends that Willet has suffered emotional and mental injuries, as well as humiliation and embarrassment after the videotaped beating was shown in the media.
Widely viewed on YouTube, the video shows Cirulli pinning Willet to the ground, then kicking and slapping him. Viewers also can hear Willet screaming, “Officer,” “Please stop” and “Let me go.”
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda placed the six officers at the scene on paid administrative leave the day after the video of Willet’s arrest went viral and Cirulli was suspended without pay, pending an investigation by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division.
Willet was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.
He pleaded guilty May 28 to misdemeanor drug possession and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He faces sentencing at 2 p.m. July 30 before City Judge Amy C. Martoche.
According to a police report on the incident, Cirulli said Willet’s Chevrolet Impala was driving at a high rate of speed in Riverside and passed another vehicle on the passenger side of a two-lane street.
“Officers pulled alongside of the defendant as he pulled over and did state to the defendant just slow down for us OK, and the defendant bailed out of the car and started running,” the report states.
During the foot chase, Willet jumped over a fence before he was taken down at Philadelphia and Ontario.
“The defendant was apprehended by Officer Cirulli and Officer Militello and taken into custody by Officer (Dennis R.) Gilbert and Officer (Brian D.) Griffin,” Cirulli stated, adding that Willet fought with officers and had to be “forcibly subdued and handcuffed.”
Cirulli’s report also stated that Willet had two bags of heroin in his left pants pocket and a bag of crack cocaine and a bag of marijuana on the center console in his car.