Dominic Schwartz, who as a Cheektowaga police officer went from being a hero to being fired in a matter of months, intends to appeal his termination, his lawyer said Tuesday.
"His heroism saved innocent lives," said Joel L. Daniels of Buffalo, a well-known criminal defense lawyer trying to help Schwartz get his job back by filing a grievance. "He should be given a medal not a pink slip."
On Nov. 14, Schwartz and Lt. Anthony Filipski responded to a shooting at the Dollar General store on Union Road near French Road. A gunman wearing a bulletproof vest had fired 20 rounds from an AR-15 outside the store, striking one person.
Schwartz and Filipski chased the suspect and, with help from two Samaritans at the nearby Darryl's Car Audio, placed him in handcuffs.
Police identified the shooter as 29-year-old Travis Green of Cheektowaga and said he had a second rifle and 800 rounds of ammunition stowed in his car. While Green's mother said he was a good person, police surmised he would have continued his shooting spree if he hadn't been stopped.
Schwartz and Filipski were hailed as heroes. But the Cheektowaga Town Board on March 13 fired Schwartz on the recommendation of Police Chief David J. Zack.
While Zack refused to state the reason for the officer's firing, The News learned it stemmed from his involvement, both on- and off-duty, with a woman in the town.
Jessica D. Huber, 41, a registered sex offender who has since pleaded guilty to violating probation, told The News she became involved with the officer after answering his post on Craigslist. The officer, 40, came to her home on more than one occasion, while in uniform, even though she told him about her status, she said.
Sexual misconduct by police officers is not uncommon. A Buffalo News investigation published in 2015 analyzed more than 700 cases and found that an officer in America is caught engaging in sexual misconduct every five days on average.
In nearly every case involving a criminal conviction, the officer was terminated from the force. But firing wasn't always the case with officers who had consensual sex while on duty and violated only departmental rules. For example, a New York City sex crimes detective who groped a rape victim in 2013 was not charged with a crime. But for violating department rules he was demoted, docked 30 vacation days and suspended 10 days without pay.
Zack, the Cheektowaga police chief, acknowledged soon after Schwartz was fired that he did not commit a crime. But firing was the best option, Zack said.
"There are some things we can correct through training and counsel, and some things we cannot," Zack said earlier this month. "With this officer, there was no counsel or training that was going to be effective."
Schwartz and Daniels, his lawyer, are hoping an arbitrator disagrees. Daniels said Schwartz's record was otherwise spotless over 17 years and his superiors always evaluated his work highly.
"We feel that termination is harsh and excessive in this particular case," Daniels said.