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City of Buffalo would pay $300,000 in jailhouse assault settlement

The City of Buffalo would pay $300,000 to a man who was assaulted by a former cellblock attendant while in custody in the Buffalo police lockup under a proposed settlement to be reviewed Wednesday by a Buffalo Common Council committee.

Shaun P. Porter had just been arrested for a domestic incident when cellblock attendant Matthew Jaskula shoved him, while handcuffed, into a metal door and dragged him bleeding and nearly unconscious to a nearby cell.

The May 2016 incident was recorded on a stationary camera inside the Buffalo police lockup. Mayor Byron W. Brown's team has kept the video from public view. The Buffalo News has gone to court seeking to show the public the crime that occurred inside a city facility.

State Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister twice denied the newspaper's request under New York's Freedom of Information Law, saying she was concerned publication of the video could make it difficult to select an impartial jury for Jaskula's criminal trial and, later, a civil trial.

Jaskula pleaded guilty in federal court to the crime of "deprivation of constitutional rights under color of law" and served an 18-month sentence. In the run-up to his sentencing, Jaskula said he wished he had never assaulted the inmate but he was feeling the stress of double-shifts and the medical treatment he had to go through because another inmate had bitten him weeks earlier.

Porter's civil suit never went to trial and appears on the verge of being settled with the $300,000 payment. In an unusual twist, Porter had asked the judge to go easy on Jaskula because he was just "a cog" in the system.

Lawyers for The News have since argued the matter before the State Supreme Court's Appellate Division, where a decision about whether to make the video public is pending.

The lawsuit named as defendants the City of Buffalo and two police officers – Joshua T. Craig and Anthony D'Agostino. They are reportedly seen on the video doing nothing to intervene as Jaskula assaulted Porter. The officers remain on active duty though they were suspended for a time without pay and subjected to an Internal Affairs probe.

Shaun Porter, victim in Buffalo police lockup

Much of what is known about the video is contained in an FBI agent's affidavit. The video, according to the affidavit, shows a docile defendant – who had just asked for a lawyer – being shoved through a door, tossed to the floor and dragged to an open cell with a trail of blood in his wake. Two police officers – Craig and D'Agostino – do not intervene. The victim remains largely motionless as blood pools underneath him. Some 90 minutes pass before he is brought to a hospital for treatment.

When arguing before Bannister in 2017, the mayor's lawyers focused on a state law that keeps secret the records used to evaluate the performance of most uniformed government employees, including police and corrections officers. City Hall lawyers considered the video one such record.

"The video in question here is something that was created to evaluate the employees that were captured on it," the city's Maeve E. Huggins told the judge. "Without consent of police officers, corrections officers, etc., or a lawful court order, our agency is unable to release anything that is a confidential personnel record."

Over the years, the state law has been cited time and again to conceal records, kept through the ordinary course of business, that could expose police misconduct. The head of New York's Committee on Open Government, Robert Freeman, has lamented that officials in law enforcement are protected from public scrutiny like few public workers. The committee stated in an advisory opinion that the public had a right to Buffalo's cellblock video.

Council members will review the $300,000 settlement proposed by the city's Law Department during Wednesday's Claims Committee meeting at 11 a.m. in Council chambers in City Hall.

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