The upcoming trial of three Buffalo police officers accused of using excessive force during a 2009 arrest took an unexpected turn Thursday.
One of the officers agreed to testify against the other two.
On the eve of his federal court trial, retired lieutenant Gregory Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge and agreed to testify about what happened during the arrest of four Buffalo teenagers seven years ago.
Kwiatkowski, as part of his plea deal, also admitted roughing up the teens.
"He admits using unlawful, unreasonable, excessive force," Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango said of the former officer.
Even more important, perhaps, Kwiatkowski, who retired in 2011, will testify against his former co-defendants – police officers Raymond Krug and Joseph Wendel – at their trial later this month.
Indicted by a grand jury in 2014, the three men were accused of using excessive force during an incident on Treehaven Road. Krug and Wendel also stand accused of shooting one of the four teens with a BB gun while the young man sat handcuffed in the car.
Mango, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Catherine Baumgarten, said Kwiatkowski decided to plead guilty when it became evident Krug and Wendel might try to point the finger at him.
All three officers were accused of violating the civil rights of the teens, who were 17 and 18 at the time. Krug and Wendel are currently suspended with pay.
The criminal prosecution of the three officers began after two of the teens sued the city in 2010. Court records indicate one of the boys, Donald J. Silmon, received a $65,000 settlement while the other one, Jeffrey E. Campbell II, received $10,000.
Arrested in what police called a drive-by BB gun shooting, the teenagers were accused of firing into a crowd at Main and Custer streets and striking at least two people with pellets.
The four teens, all residents of University Heights, were charged with felony assault, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon and eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of harassment. They were each sentenced to a conditional discharge and community service.
A year later, Silmon and Campbell filed their civil suit against the city and accused the officers of slamming Campbell down on the police cruiser, causing injuries to his eye and face. Silmon claimed he was shot - once in the leg and once in the groin – with the BB gun.
The other boys involved in the incident, Davaughan Dantzler and Justin Ward, did not sue the city. Now in their 20s, all four are expected to testify against Krug and Wendel.
Terrence M. Connors, who is representing Krug, and Rodney O. Personius, who is representing Wendel, declined to comment on Kwiatkowski's plea but were in court Thursday asking for a delay in this month's trial.
"There are now two witnesses in this case that I was unaware of two weeks ago," Personius told U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.
In addition to Kwiatkowski, the prosecution is also planning to call a witness, a Buffalo Fire Department captain, who will claim that Wendel talked to him about the BB-gun incident and told him, “We shot them and laughed at them.”
Krug and Wendel, not Kwiatkowski, are charged in the shooting.
Personius also raised the possibility that Kwiatkowski, 52, may now face questions about his disciplinary record as an officer when he takes the witness stand against Krug and Wendel.
His record includes a 2008 incident involving a fellow officer, Cariol Horne, and the allegation that she was fired from the job for jumping on Kwiatkowski’s back while he was trying to make an arrest. Horne claimed Kwiatkowski was choking the person.
Kwiatkowski later won $65,000 in damages as part of a defamation suit against Horne.
Skretny did not rule on the defense 's request for a delay in the upcoming trial but left open the possibility that he might postpone it for a week. The trial is currently set to begin Tuesday with jury selection.
Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of depravation of rights under color of law during his appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy.
His conviction is the result of an investigation by the FBI and Buffalo Police. His lawyers could not be reached for comment.