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Defense targets officers' actions in trial of woman accused of resisting arrest

A city woman went on trial Thursday in City Court on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges, but her defense team is seeking to put the Lockport Police Department on trial in the case.

Priscilla McDowell, a 49-year-old grandmother with a heart condition, contends she was the victim of police brutality on July 17 on Church Street.

During his opening arguments, defense attorney E. Earl Key said the police treated everyone poorly that night, and then showed a videotape of Officer Todd Chenez in his police car continuously swearing at a pregnant woman who had been arrested before McDowell.

"They want you to believe that the crowd was hostile," Key said, "but it was the police swearing at residents and escalating this whole incident."

Key told the jury that the call was about a fight that was over before police even arrived.

The arrest of McDowell and three others prompted an outcry. Some at a Common Council meeting that followed condemned police conduct and asked that the officers involved, Lt. Douglas Haak and officers Chenez and Kevin Schader, be disciplined.

The arrest also rekindled previous concerns about racial insensitivity by the city's all-white police force.

The brutality accusations prompted an internal investigation that backed up the actions of the police officers.

Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh said the case in front of the jury was "all about maintaining order."

"Mrs. McDowell was told she had to leave," Wydysh said. "She begins yelling obscenities at the officers. Lt. Haak said 'That's it. You're under arrest.' Then [Mrs. McDowell] walks away. Lt. Haak attempted to grab her and she pulled away. He put her in a bear hug and took her to the ground. Officers Chenez and [Kendra] DiTullio assisted."

Key told the jury that McDowell was upset about her son being arrested and threatened to sue police because he had hit his head. Key said his client never once swore at police.

Wydysh said Haak pulled out a Taser, but said he never used it, just dropped it.

Keys told members of the jury they would see photos of burn marks on Mrs. McDowell that are consistent with a Taser.

Wydysh told the jury that Chenez did swear, but noted that his remarks were "inadvertent after he had been hit by pepper spray." He added that Chenez was in a patrol car with his windows up, which makes the car his office space and very different from obscenities in public.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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