An internal police investigation into the death of Mark S. Virginia while he was in police custody has resulted in departmental charges against a lieutenant and two officers, authorities said this week.
Lt. Gregg G. Blosat, who was acquitted of criminal counts in Virginia's fatal encounter with the Police Department, is accused of conduct unbecoming of an officer and unauthorized use of a collapsible metal baton.
Officers Joseph W. Walters and Michael Bowen face departmental charges that they left their patrol assignment without permission and acted in an unbecoming manner.
All three have pleaded innocent.
Bowen also pleaded innocent to a departmental charge of using sap gloves -- which are lined with lead powder -- in the fight.
Department officials said that, if the lieutenant and officers are found guilty, they could face punishments ranging from a reprimand to job termination. The officials, however, added that it was unlikely the officers would be dismissed.
Because of a backlog in disciplinary cases, it could take as long as three years before an independent hearing officer hears the officers' cases.
The two officers, formerly assigned to the Genesee Station, had followed Virginia's van in their unmarked police car to North Buffalo after witnessing what they thought was an illegal exchange of drugs at 1:12 a.m. March 14, 1996, on Genesee Street and Fillmore Avenue.
Virginia, 38, resisted efforts to arrest him, and a violent confrontation ensued, ending in his death at the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Nottingham Terrace.
The hearing officer is selected by the department and police union, police officials said Thursday.
Lt. Robert P. Meegan Jr., president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, blamed the department for the long delay.
"It's due to the department's foot-dragging on disciplinary hearings. We request the hearings and don't get them. No officer likes to have a disciplinary proceeding hanging over his head," Meegan said.
Officers are prohibited from using weapons that the department does not provide training for, such as sap gloves and metal batons. However, many officers over the years have worn the gloves, and the metal batons have been issued to police on bicycle patrols.
"The charges have been filed, and we are awaiting the hearings," Deputy Police Commissioner John R. Battle said. "In addition, the department is in the process of finishing a review of policies in an attempt to make sure everything that could be done to improve the level of services has been implemented."
Among the areas under review is the "use-of-force continuum," which spells out how officers should conduct themselves in making an arrest.
Blosat, the only department member criminally charged in the Virginia case, was acquitted Feb. 7 by an Erie County Court jury of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. He was accused of choking the Starin Avenue man.
Policies for providing first aid for prisoners, officers and medical personnel responding to an arrest scene are also being scrutinized.
Prosecutors believe Virginia was already dead when he was placed into a patrol car for transport to Columbus Hospital.
Battle said he hopes that once the initial findings of the review are implemented, the department will put in place a mechanism that allows for constant, ongoing evaluation.
"Processes should change because the laws change, medical procedures change and times change," he said.