U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny has dismissed a $40 million lawsuit brought against the Town of Cheektowaga, the City of Buffalo and their police departments by the family of a man who died in custody in 1992.
Skretny, in a 28-page summary judgment handed down last week, said the family of Donald T. Fleming failed to prove their claims of wrongful death, excessive use of force, inadequate police training and failure to provide medical treatment.
The family, which repeatedly has protested police brutality in hearings and demonstrations during the past 5 1/2 years, has 30 days to file an appeal.
Fleming, 32, a veteran of the Grenada invasion who worked as a school bus driver and security guard, died Oct. 16, 1992, while being booked in Cheektowaga Police Headquarters in connection with the armed robbery of the former Ziggy & Zon's World at the Airport Plaza.
Police noticed Fleming unconscious on a bench in a holding cell and called paramedics, who arrived in two minutes but were unable to revive him. He was taken to St. Joseph Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Fleming and another man were arrested after a foot chase by Buffalo and Cheektowaga police after Cheektowaga detectives chased Fleming's truck into the Kenfield-Langfield housing projects.
The man arrested with Fleming told police that Fleming had consumed malt liquor and smoked a marijuana cigarette laced with cocaine prior to the robbery.
Fleming's family originally contended
that he was beaten by police. Three autopsies failed to confirm their claim. All three results said cocaine was found in his blood.
An Erie County medical examiner said Fleming suffered a heart attack brought on by cocaine abuse and a pre-existing disease as a result of having a sickle-cell trait.
Another medical examiner brought in by the district attorney and the New York State Correction Medical Review Board agreed with that conclusion.
A pathologist hired by the family ruled the cause of death was related to a medical phenomenon known as "sickle-cell crisis" but said it was triggered by the arrest and criticized police for failing to give him medical attention.
Investigations by county, state and federal investigators have concluded that the Cheektowaga police did not mistreat Fleming.