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Niagara Falls considers $45,000 settlement with man who fought cop

A man who sued the City of Niagara Falls after tangling with an officer in Police Headquarters two years ago may receive a $45,000 settlement.

The City Council is to vote Wednesday on the payment to Christopher R. Griffin, 32, of Main Street, who charged in his lawsuit that Officer Tommie Caldwell struck him in the head and body, twisted his arms and kneed him in the head May 11, 2016.

However, a police report filed at the time of Griffin's arrest called the incident "a fist fight" between Griffin and Caldwell after Griffin allegedly spat on Caldwell.

"In civil litigation, it comes down to the corporation counsel making a business decision rather than pursuing it through the jury system, and that's what happened here," Police Superintendent E. Byron DalPorto said.

Asked if the settlement means the city is admitting wrongdoing, DalPorto said, "The Police Department certainly is not."

Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson said the case had been scheduled for a jury trial in August in State Supreme Court before the settlement was negotiated.

He declined further comment on the case because it is still regarded as pending litigation until it is settled.

Griffin could not be reached for comment, and his attorney, Robert H. Perk, did not return calls from The Buffalo News.

DalPorto said there was an internal investigation, but he wouldn't say whether there was any discipline imposed on Caldwell, who remains on the force.

In such probes, DalPorto said, "You have to take into account the totality of the incident."

According to the police report on the incident, Griffin's car was pulled over at about 10 p.m. May 11, 2016, after Caldwell and another patrolman saw the vehicle run two stop signs on 18th Street.

The officers said Griffin repeatedly asked why he was stopped and when he was told, he allegedly said, "We are in the hood. I don't have to stop for stop signs in the hood."

He identified himself as someone else and eventually was charged with criminal impersonation and a variety of vehicle and traffic counts. The car was searched with Griffin's permission, but no contraband was found.

The police report said the officers had to ask Griffin five or six times to get out of his vehicle, and when they arrived at headquarters, they found he had urinated through his pants and onto the back seat and floor of the patrol car. He threatened the officers during the ride, the report said.

At headquarters, according to the report, Griffin at first refused to surrender his property and pounded on the window of his cell, demanding his one phone call.

When Griffin was brought to the booking counter, he ignored the booking officer and kept trying to "stare down" Caldwell, the report said.

When Griffin's handcuffs were removed so he could be fingerprinted, "The prisoner pushed and spit (sic) on Ofr. Caldwell and a fist fight ensued," the report said.

Two other officers grabbed Griffin and handcuffed him, the report said, and a charge of obstructing governmental administration was added to the earlier counts.

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