A former cell block attendant for the City of Buffalo, who shoved a handcuffed defendant into a metal door and dragged him bleeding and nearly unconscious to an empty cell, was ordered Thursday to spend 18 months in a federal prison.
"You are a prisoner now, just like that other fellow was," U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo told Matthew Jaskula, who sat before him in a faded blue jumpsuit issued by the Niagara County Jail, where he has been held in recent months.
"You certainly wouldn't want anyone to treat you now like you treated that other fellow," the judge said.
Under federal guidelines, Jaskula was looking at a range of 15 to 21 months behind bars plus a fine. He was spared a fine and an even longer sentence, the judge said, out of concern for his wife and young children.
Jaskula, 27, pleaded guilty months ago to a single charge: deprivation of civil rights under color of law. The crime was unusual, the judge noted, because it was recorded on a stationary camera inside the Buffalo police lockup.
"It's horrible to watch," Vilardo said of the video.
With the victim handcuffed and defenseless, "you grab him like a piece of meat," and drag him to an empty cell 10 to 15 feet away, Vilardo said. He rejected the suggestion that Jaskula acted in a momentary burst of anger, because he had chances to change course and do the right thing.
"This is another human being," Vilardo added.
"Nobody deserves that."
The judge said he recommended Jaskula serve his time in a federal prison as close to Western New York as possible, to make it easier for family to visit. With time off for good behavior and credit for his months of confinement, Jaskula could be out in about a year. He then would undergo three years of supervised release.
Jaskula, who has been in custody since a drug test showed he violated the terms of his presentence release, had asked that he be freed so he could seek counseling for his drinking problem and again collect an income for his family.
The stress of multiple overtime shifts, plus the cocktail of AIDS-prevention drugs he'd been taking — an inmate bit him weeks earlier — led to his poor judgment inside the Buffalo police lockup, he said in a letter to the judge. Defense lawyer Paul G. Dell also asked that Jaskula be sentenced only to the time already served, and then undergo supervised release.
Also asking for a lenient sentence was his victim, Shaun P. Porter. In an unusual move, Porter wrote to the judge to say the cell block attendant was just a cog in a system that condoned and encouraged the mistreatment of inmates.
"I believe that this experience was a wake-up call for Mr. Jaskula," Porter wrote, "and while I understand the court will not let him go without some sentence, I would ask for leniency in light of my Christian beliefs."
Porter's civil suit against the City of Buffalo names two police officers – Joshua T. Craig and Anthony D'Agostino – who are seen on a video of the beating doing nothing to intervene during the incident in May 2016.
"One officer looks like a kid at an amusement park," said Dell, Jaskula's defense lawyer. "He enjoys what is going on."
Vilardo said he read Jaskula's plea for leniency more than once, and found something missing. In the letter, Jaskula says he realizes the pain he caused his family. He realized how his life had been derailed by his behavior. But there was "almost nothing in there about the person you hurt," the judge said.
"When your lawyer says you get it, I'm not sure that's true."
Federal prosecutors had made a similar point: "While not denying what he did to Shaun Porter, the defendant deflects blame for what happened to everyone but himself; the two police officers; his training; the pressures of his job; and Porter," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Guerra III said in court papers.
Outside the courtroom, Guerra repeated that the U.S. Attorney's Office has dropped its objection to the video being made available to the public. Dell also welcomed its release, to expose the environment that existed in the city facility in May 2016.
The Buffalo News sought access to the video under the Freedom of Information Law, and went to court when aides to Mayor Byron W. Brown denied the request. So far, however, the video has been kept out of public view.
The most complete description of the video comes from an FBI agent's affidavit. Agent Jennifer Amo wrote that Porter showed no resistance as he was being booked into the city's cell block after a domestic incident. But after Porter said something to Jaskula over his shoulder — apparently that he wanted a lawyer — Jaskula shoved Porter into a door and then to the floor. The defendant's face reportedly hit a shelf as fell.
Jaskula, according to Amo's affidavit, then dragged the victim by the arms to a cell, and his face hit a door frame during the journey. All the while, Porter "does not, and appears incapable of, offering any physical resistance," she wrote.
Two police officers – Craig and D'Agostino – do not intervene.
Porter was placed in a restraint chair. With blood pooling underneath him, Jaskula considered getting him some medical attention, Amo indicated.
Jaskula went to tell the two lieutenants in charge that patrol officers had brought in a defendant with a bloody nose. When told that the arresting officers should bring the man to a hospital, Jaskula responded that the bleeding had stopped and the defendant was refusing treatment, court records say.
Some 90 minutes later, however, another attendant told a lieutenant that Porter was complaining of chest pain. He was soon treated at Erie County Medical Center for a broken nose, and sutures were applied to a cut near his right eye.