After court battle, sheriff gives video of inmate kicking
Man restrained and on the ground
A handcuffed inmate howled in pain after an Erie County corrections officer swung his right foot toward the inmate's head, videos obtained by The Buffalo News show.
"He just kicked me in my mouth," yelled Nathaniel Oyoyo.
Oyoyo was sprawled face down on the floor, where drops of blood from above his left eye pooled. At least a dozen corrections officers surrounded him.
The Erie County Sheriff's Office released the videos to The Buffalo News this week after a State Supreme Court judge ruled that the Sheriff's Office had no reasonable basis for denying The News' Freedom of Information Law request for the public records.
Videos from three separate angles show Officer Daniel Piwowarczyk kicking his right boot toward the head of Oyoyo, who was on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back and officers holding him down. The boot's exact point of contact with Oyoyo was obscured by Piwowarczyk's left leg in the video captured by body cameras worn by other officers.
The Feb. 24, 2022, incident in Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden led to an internal investigation and report, but no charges of wrongdoing against Piwowarczyk .
Sheriff John C. Garcia said he will not appeal the Feb. 17 order by Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto to hand over the videos.
"My intention from day one was only to protect the rights of the incarcerated individual," Garcia said. "I believe inmates have privacy."
The News maintained in its arguments to the court that the public has a right to know what happens in the county run facility and government agencies can't withhold public records, including video footage. Panepinto agreed with The News' attorneys, Karim A. Abdullah and Joseph M. Finnerty, that the state's courts have ruled in prior cases that inmates "have no general expectation of privacy," and that records such as the videos can only be withheld if they display nudity or other intimate details.
The Sheriff's Office provided a USB flash drive with video clips from the body cameras worn by officers who were at the scene when the incident happened. At least a dozen corrections officers were in the vicinity of the incident, videos show. The Sheriff's Office provided seven pieces of video footage, ranging from 27 seconds to more than 37 minutes in duration.
Two of the video clips showed Oyoyo laying on his chest and side with his head up and facing the floor. His hands are cuffed behind his back. Two officers were on their knees holding down Oyoyo, with a third officer standing and bent over to assist.
Oyoyo was agitated and trying to get free. At one point, he yelled at an officer: "I'm going to kill you" and "punch you in your (expletive)mouth."
Those videos were captured by body cameras on sergeants who stood a few feet away, in an adjoining room. A third clip that shows the kick was from the body camera of a sergeant standing next to Piwowarczyk.
Garcia said no fixed cameras were in the area where the incident occurred, and all the body-camera videos were turned over to The News without editing.
At the time of the incident, only sergeants were required to wear body cameras. The cameras do not run constantly but are activated when a confrontation or other event happens.
Oyoyo, then 19, was in the correctional facility on robbery and burglary charges and was being booked on a new charge related to trying to fashion a weapon in the jail, when he became combative with officers trying to fingerprint him, according to a report on an internal probe into the matter. Oyoyo currently is in state prison.
The videos provided to The News began only after Oyoyo was wrestled to the ground. They don't show what precipitated that.
Oyoyo hurled profanity and racial epithets while accusing officers of punching him in the face and bending his fingers. An officer can be heard in the background calmly urging, "Stop. Everyone take a breath."
But the tension quickly boiled over. At 2:26 p.m., Oyoyo spit toward
Piwowarczyk's leg. Piwowarczyk responded instantly by stepping closer with his left foot and swinging his right foot toward the inmate's face. None of the videos showexactly where Oyoyo was kicked, but Oyoyo complained repeatedly afterward about being kicked in the mouth and face.
Piwowarczyk maintained in his statement to Professional Standards that he kicked Oyoyo in the right shoulder to stop the inmate from spitting at or biting an officer crouched over him.
Piwowarczyk was suspended with pay for three months during an internal investigation that cleared him of any wrongdoing. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn chose not to prosecute because Piwowarczyk's actions did not amount to criminal conduct that could be proven beyond reasonable doubt, a spokeswoman told The News in 2022.
Garcia said he forwarded the videos to the District Attorney's Office and the State Commission of Correction in the interest of transparency.
"It's important for the public to understand that this wasn't just an inhouse investigation," he said. "This was something that we reached out to the DA's Office and said, 'What do you see here?' "
Some of the video footage showed what transpired with Oyoyo after the kick.
Officers put a spit guard over his face and shackles on his legs, then walked him through a long corridor to the facility's medical area.
Oyoyo complained that his mouth is bleeding and his head and eye hurt. When a nurse asked him if he wanted medical attention, he first said, "I don't want no help from nobody."
Moments later, he changed his mind.
"They kicked me in my face while I was handcuffed on the floor, bro," he tells the nurse. "I keep telling everybody. Everybody seen meget kicked in the face, but nobody is doing nothing or saying nothing about it, bro."
In reports, none of the corrections officers describes Piwowarczyk or anyone kicking the handcuffed inmate in the face or head. For a brief time, Officer Jonathan Naegely was the exception: "I saw in my peripheral view what I believed to be a black boot come into contact with Oyoyo's face."
But hours later, according to the internal report, Naegely decided he had been mistaken.