It is a good thing that the NFTA is better at running buses than at reviewing its police force. Otherwise, a lot of its vehicles would end up in a ditch.
In a decision that surprised no one and irritated many, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials last week cleared Officer Adam Brodsky of wrongdoing in the April 8 pepper-spraying of anti-war demonstrator Nate Buckley.
What separated the downtown incident from the standard arrest is that the protest and pepper-spraying were captured on a digital recording on YouTube.
People can see for themselves what happened.
The recording shows Brodsky, who last year was accused of using excessive force during a questionable arrest, spraying an unresisting Buckley. The subsequent arrest report, filed by Officer Richard Russo, is filled with cover-our-butts inaccuracies.
None of which mattered much to NFTA officials. Instead of a suspension or other discipline, an internal NFTA review gave Officers Brodsky and Russo a free pass. Instead of cracking down on use of unnecessary force and fiction-laced arrest reports, the NFTA gave its seal of approval. The message to the public: Don't worry, be happy. And wear protective goggles when in proximity to Brodsky.
"Brodsky has used [excessive force] before," Buckley told me Tuesday. "This is like giving him a license to go back into the community and do it again."
Seems that way to me.
Brodsky was accused by a witness last year of roughing up a 65-year-old bicyclist who tried to use the restroom at the downtown bus terminal. A City Court judge questioned Brodsky's credibility and tossed the case out of court.
Granted, the 25-year-old Buckley -- at the tail end of a protest that got testy -- initially struggled with Brodsky and Russo. But he has one hand behind his back and the other passively raised palm-up when Brodsky sprays him from behind. It looks to me like a use of pepper spray as payback for giving cops a hard time. Police regulations say the eye-burning liquid should be used only to subdue someone, not to deliver street justice.
The cops tried to cover for the gratuitous spraying in Russo's arrest report. It included the fiction that Buckley was "forcibly handcuffed" while trying to kick and spit at officers.
Hogwash. The video shows that Buckley is sprayed well after he stopped squirming in the officers' grasp. John Curr III, head of the local ACLU chapter, and attorney Paul Cambria, an expert in First Amendment cases, both told me after viewing the video that the pepper-spraying seemed unnecessary.
I guess that brutality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
"We'd be hard-pressed to say [Buckley] was cooperative," NFTA attorney David State told The Buffalo News. "You'll see him raising his left hand, and his right hand is tense."
It is a good thing that State, judging by his odd interpretation of the video, does not do movie reviews. He might claim that Bambi provoked the hunter.
Buckley told me that he may sue the NFTA, once his criminal case is settled. He recently rejected a plea deal on resisting arrest and other charges, and is due back in court July 1.
Some good has come of this. The NFTA says it will set up an internal affairs unit. All of its officers are supposed to get a refresher course on using pepper spray. Finally, Brodsky had to read and take a written test on a manual about "proper interaction skills with the public." Presumably that doesn't include the pepper-spraying of compliant citizens.
All of which leaves us no closer to justice. Nor does it make us feel any safer.