Buffalo Police brass have slapped Officer Richard N. Hy with an additional 41 departmental charges for posting what many friends and co-workers described as humorous videos humanizing cops but that supervisors said violate the department’s social media policy.
Hy already faced 10 charges and was suspended for 30 days without pay as Internal Affairs investigators reviewed dozens of videos he posted on various social media sites under the “Angry Cops” username.
Investigators in recent days determined he was wearing a police uniform, made the videos in police buildings and on city time, resulting in the additional charges.
His friends say it wasn’t a real uniform and the videos were made on his own time.
And they believe the department is throwing the book at him when all he was trying to do was humanize police officers at a time when police officers are being scrutinized across the country.
Hy’s videos were funny, off the wall and sometimes featured topics that weren’t “everyone’s cup of tea,” said longtime friend Matthew A. Milewski.
But they never were intended to cast the Buffalo Police Department in a bad light, he added.
“Honestly, there are bigger things going on in the community like the opiate epidemic that need and can benefit from the type of attention Richard is receiving,” Milewski said. “Richard wants to move forward and put this behind him. He wants to go back to serving and protecting the community.”
Hy’s video topics: pretending to snort cocaine, then screeching and laughing; a fake police shooting in which he tells the victim to be quiet since he was only grazed; Hy, who is white, dancing around with a black officer to promote racial harmony; and Hy poking fun at police tactics, such as “good cop, bad cop” interrogations.
Milewski pointed out that several police officers across the country have taken to social media to humanize members of law enforcement and share a laugh with viewers.
“I’m thinking why doesn’t the Police Department utilize Richard’s raw talent to work to bridge the gap between the social stigma that police have and the community,” Milewski said. “Instead of punishing him, why not refine him.”
In his three years on the force, Hy has made some 300 arrests and assisted in removing 20 guns from the streets as a member of the department’s Strike Force unit, according to Milewski. Hy is also a sergeant in the Army Reserve and served twice in Iraq, receiving the Combat Action Badge.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda has declined to comment, but police sources familiar with Hy’s case say the numerous charges are the result of the officer’s failure to follow a directive given to him when he was previously brought up on violations for his videos.
“He was told not to do it and reprimanded. He got a slap on the wrist and then he went and did it again,” one police source said.
His friends say Hy believed he was adhering to the directions by not wearing his uniform. The uniform he wore in the videos, according to the friends, was a costume and the badge was not a city police badge.
When Internal Affairs investigators asked Hy to remove the videos involving police work after he had been suspended, they said he immediately complied.
Hy and a Buffalo Police Benevolent Association attorney have met twice with Internal Affairs investigators. An informal hearing to discuss the charges is to be scheduled in the near future.
In addition to the video-related charges, Hy is also accused of violating the department’s media policy for talking to a New York Daily News reporter.
“The Daily News reporter called Richard and Richard repeatedly told the reporter that he could not make a statement on the department’s behalf,” a fellow officer said in defending Hy.
Hy was quoted in the Daily News story as saying that he did not act maliciously when making the videos. He thought “it was just harmless fun.”
The officer, who requested that his name be withheld because he, too, is not permitted to speak to reporters, added that the videos not only humanized police, but were a stress reliever.
“We can’t talk to anybody outside of our job,” the officer said, “because we get judged on every word we speak. When we watch Richard’s videos, it provides us with an opportunity to decompress in a healthy way.”
Roughly 150 police officers and others from the area gathered Friday night in West Seneca to show support for Hy and raise money to help him cover his expenses while he is on unpaid suspension. They raised $2,285.
An online GoFundMe page has raised more than $1,700 for Hy, but he has refused to accept money from those contributions and has instead asked that they be donated to the Fallen Officer Foundation.
And there has been other support in the form of online statements and videos, some of them questioning whether Hy’s right to free speech has been infringed upon. In one photograph showing Hy in his Army uniform at a Buffalo Sabres game, where he was honored with other members of the military, the words, “Can Die For His Country; Can’t Make a Joke,” are superimposed on the photograph.
Buffalo attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr., who specializes in First Amendment cases, said free speech protections do not always apply.
“Some police activity is not protected by the First Amendment, say if you do something that negatively impacts your employer who is trying to maintain dignity and integrity,” Cambria said. “Fun loving? You can do all you want, so long as it doesn’t denigrate your employer.”