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Fate of Buffalo cops accused of brutality will rest in jury's hands

When all is said and done, the fate of two Buffalo police officers accused of shooting a teen with a BB gun comes down to who the jury believes.

Will jurors side with the four teenagers who testified about the slaps and punches they endured nine years ago?

Or will they believe Raymond Krug and Joseph Wendel, two cops who say they were simply doing their job that night?

On Wednesday, lawyers on both sides used their closing arguments to make one last pitch to the jury.

"They took our U.S. Constitution, these defendants that night, and ripped it in half," Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango said of Krug and Wendel.

Mango said the government's case hinges on three witnesses and suggested none of them has a reason to lie.

Defense attorney Terrence M. Connors countered by suggesting many of those same witnesses are biased.

"There's so many holes in this case, it's clear there is reasonable doubt," he told the jury.

At the core of the case is the allegation that the two officers violated the civil rights of the four teenagers they arrested as suspects in a drive-by BB gun shooting earlier that night.

Krug, who was investigated by the FBI and indicted in 2014, is charged with shooting one of the teens in the leg with a BB gun. Wendel is accused of egging Krug on and later punching the same teen twice in the stomach.

"The police wanted to bury this, push it under the rug," Mango said of the officers who tried to protect Krug and Wendel throughout the prosecution.

Gregory Kwiatkowski. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

From the very start of the trial, the defense has pointed a finger at a third officer on the scene when the teens were arrested that May night in 2009.

Gregory Kwiatkowski, a retired lieutenant who has already pleaded guilty, testified that he slammed each of the teens headfirst into a police car. He also acknowledged recovering the BB gun but claims he gave it to Krug or Wendel.

During his testimony, Kwiatkowski detailed his struggles with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anger management.

"He was a mess that night," said defense attorney Rodney O. Personius. "And among those who got victimized are Officer Wendel and Detective Krug."

Personius and Connors maintain Kwiatkowski had ample time and motive to shoot Donald J. Silmon, the teen who said he was shot by Krug.

They also reminded the jury that Kwiatkowski has a long history of dishonesty when asked about what happened that night on Treehaven Road.

"The only time you can tell Kwiatkowski is lying is when his lips move," Connors said at one point.

Mango defended Kwiatkowski and said his plea agreement provides an incentive for him to tell the truth. If he lies, he said, he runs the risk of losing his misdemeanor plea deal and having the original felony charges against him reinstated.

"He testified to what he did," Mango said. "He owned that. He has no incentive to lie."

Mango also reminded the jury about the testimony of Thomas Breski, the Buffalo firefighter who claims Wendel admitted taking part in shooting as part of a private conversation in late 2012.

"He's the final piece of the BB gun shooting puzzle," he said.

Personius dismissed Breski's account of his conversation with Wendel and pointed to the testimony of two other firefighters who were there when Breski and Wendel spoke. They claim the conversation over the BB gun shooting never happened.

Wendel's defense lawyer also challenged the credibility of the four teens and, one by one, detailed what he described as a slew of lies.

Chief among them was their contention that, after the drive-by shooting that led to their arrest, they returned, scared and nervous, to one of the teen's homes.

Earlier this week, the defense introduced evidence of 18 other BB gun shootings and produced an eyewitness who identified Silmon's car as the vehicle he saw leaving the scene of a shooting in North Buffalo later that same night.

Joseph Wendel. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"How can you believe anything the four of them said in this courtroom," Personius told the jury.

The teens were arrested after one of them fired into a group of people at Main and Custer streets. The four teens were charged with felony assault, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon.

They ended up pleading guilty to a lesser charge of harassment and were sentenced to a conditional discharge and community service.

All four teens testified against Krug and Wendel.

During the trial, there was also testimony about a civil suit filed by Silmon and Jeffrey E. Campbell II, one of the other teens arrested that night.

The suit against the city resulted in Silmon receiving a $65,000 settlement and Campbell receiving $10,000. In court papers, Silmon said it was Krug who fired the BB gun and that Wendel was there, encouraging him to shoot again.

Krug and Wendel, who are currently suspended with pay, face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

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