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Woman found not guilty in police scuffle

A City Court jury took only 20 minutes Friday to acquit a Center Street woman in a July 17 case that could lead to a police brutality lawsuit against the city.

Priscilla McDowell, 49, was found not guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. She was wrestled to the ground by Lt. Douglas Haak, who testified she refused his orders to leave the area of Washington and Allen streets, where her son had just been arrested.

McDowell accused Haak of using a stun gun on her, and photos were entered into evidence showing burn marks 1 1/2 inches apart on her body, the same width as a stun gun's prongs. Haak testified that he pointed a stun gun at McDowell's husband, Thomas, but he said he dropped it.

A key to the case was a crime scene videotape shot by an automatic camera in a police car. It showed McDowell standing beside another police car in which her son was sitting, talking quietly to an officer for about three minutes. McDowell then disappeared from the picture for a few seconds, then seemed to point at someone before walking away.

Moments later, officers run forward and the action is obscured by the other police car, and about 30 seconds later McDowell is seen being led away in handcuffs.

Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh argued that police were simply trying to maintain order. "I'm disappointed. I thought we put in sufficient evidence to convict, but the jury disagreed," he said.

McDowell and her son Timothy are African-American, and all Lockport police officers are white. Two other defendants, both white, also were arrested at the scene, where police were called by a resident who saw women fighting in the street. They had left by the time police arrived.

The jury consisted of three white women, a black woman and two white men. McDowell said the verdict made her "very happy," and she said the incident showed police need some improved training.

"They should teach them not to be so aggressive and not so quick to arrest someone," she said.

McDowell has filed a notice of claim against the city, a necessary preliminary to suing a municipality.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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