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Delano case is a dilemma for police boss

I would hate to be H. McCarthy Gipson right about now.

Buffalo's police commissioner has created quite a dilemma for himself as he ponders what to do about heroic cop Dennis Delano, who refused to be bound by the rules when he felt that justice was on the line.

Almost lost amid the grief over the Flight 3407 tragedy was the fact that Delano's disciplinary hearing ended quietly the other day. The suspended Cold Case Squad detective's fate soon will be in Gipson's hands.

Meanwhile, Delano sits at home -- just like that former cop whose fate also was resolved in Police Headquarters: Cariol Horne.

Horne was the officer fired last year after stepping in when she felt that other cops were choking a man being arrested in a domestic dispute over mail.

The comparisons are intriguing.

Many consider Delano a hero for helping free Lynn DeJac from prison after she was wrongfully convicted of killing her daughter, Crystallynn Girard. Yet department brass consider him an outlaw for giving TV newscasts footage of the murder scene and results of a polygraph test of a suspect who had been granted immunity.

Similarly, many call Horne a heroine for putting her police career on the line in a scuffle with officers she felt were choking a man taken from his home on flimsy charges that a judge threw out. She was fired for acting, despite flashing back to a decade earlier when a Buffalo man died from pressure exerted to his neck during an arrest.

Delano acted to get justice for a girl whose life was prematurely ended; Horne acted to save a life she felt was under threat.

Delano's alleged insubordination was premeditated, with time to ponder the consequences; Horne's was a spur-of-the-moment decision in the heat of battle, the kind cops usually say shouldn't be second-guessed.

But the biggest difference is the elephant in the community, the one we'll pretend doesn't exist: Delano is white; Horne is black. More to the point: Delano helped white victims of injustice, while Horne went to bat for a black man.

Don't kid yourself that this doesn't matter.

In death-penalty cases, the dead person's race correlates with the punishment meted out. When young women turn up missing, their race correlates with how much media attention the case gets. When patients enter the hospital, their race correlates with how aggressively they get treated by doctors.

Throughout society, the color of victims colors our perception of how much action is warranted on their behalf. Neither electing a black man president nor having a black police commissioner changes that -- or lessens community interest in seeing Delano reinstated.

That's why a lot of people, particularly on the East Side, will be intensely interested in what the hearing officer recommends, and what Gipson ultimately rules. Delano's cold-case work -- in helping free DeJac as well as Anthony Capozzi, who was wrongfully imprisoned in a rape case -- is impressive. While discipline is in order, a cop like that obviously should not be fired.

But despite a much more checkered history, neither should Horne. Her sacking in that particular case sent the wrong message in a community where police abuse has always been an issue.

That wrongheaded decision now leaves Gipson with a dilemma: the prospect of a double standard or equal (in)justice under the law.

One acted to save a life; one acted on behalf of a life already taken.

Both allegedly broke the rules.

It's your call, commissioner.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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