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Ex-Buffalo cop gets 4 months in prison in 2009 excessive force case

Ex-Buffalo cop gets 4 months in prison in 2009 excessive force case

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gregory kwiatkowski CANTILLON

The annals of Buffalo police mistreatment of people of color include the case of former Lt. . Gregory Kwiatkowski, shown here leaving federal court, who reportedly called the four African American teens he was arresting "savage dogs" before slamming them into a vehicle. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

Gregory Kwiatkowski admits he "lost control" of himself.

It was late May of 2009 and the Buffalo police lieutenant was one of the first officers to encounter four teenagers suspected in a drive-by BB gun shooting.

Kwiatkowski grabbed one of the handcuffed teens by the neck and slammed him headfirst into a police car. And then, when the teen's friends reacted angrily, he slammed the others, one by one, into the car.

On Wednesday, the now retired police officer was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny to four months in prison and another four months of home confinement.

"On that day, you disgraced yourself, you disgraced your family, you disgraced the uniform," Skretny said of Kwiatkowski's actions that night nearly 10 years ago.

In sending the former cop to prison, the judge rejected a joint request for probation from the defense and prosecution. Kwiatkowski's recommended sentence was 8 to 12 months in prison.

In explaining his decision, Skretny referred to Kwiatkowski's initial statements to the teens - four African-Americans - upon his arrival at the scene that night.

He called them "savage dogs" and asked them "do you like shooting at white kids," the judge said.

"You've lost the honor and privilege of being one of the good guys," Skretny said Wednesday.

Kwiatkowski's sentence stems from a misdemeanor conviction – deprivation of rights under color of law – in a plea deal that required he take the witness stand and testify against fellow officers Raymond Krug and Joseph Wendel.

Krug and Wendel were accused of shooting one of the teens with a BB gun seized by police that night, but a jury later found them not guilty.

Their acquittals mean Kwiatkowski is the only police officer convicted in connection with the teens' arrest on Treehaven Road that night.

Federal prosecutors pointed to the victims in the case – four black teens victimized by a white police officer – and acknowledged their support for a probationary sentence was a "difficult recommendation."

They noted that the retired cop testified against two officers he once supervised and did it in front of a courtroom gallery packed with officers.

"What we asked Mr. Kwiatkowski to do was very substantial," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango. "He crossed that thin blue line."

During the trial, Kwiatkowski said the four teens were suspected of shooting up cars and houses, including those of cops, and he became "upset, probably enraged."

"I took it personally and lost control of myself," he told the jury during Krug's and Wendel's trial.

Later, while at the station house, Kwiatkowski said he noticed one of the handcuffed teens scuffling with Krug so he punched the teen several times.

From the day he took his plea deal, the former Buffalo cop became a much anticipated witness in the case against Krug and Wendel.

During his time on the stand, he faced questions about his disciplinary record and mental health. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and, on Wednesday, told Skretny he retired from the police department because of his condition.

"I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago," Kwiatkowski said.

His record includes a 2006 on-duty confrontation with a fellow officer, Cariol J. Horne, during a violent arrest. She claimed Kwiatkowski was choking a man he and other officers were placing under arrest, while he alleged Horne jumped on his back while he was trying to subdue the man. She was fired from her job following an internal affairs review and a disciplinary proceeding.

Like the prosecution, Kwiatkowski's defense lawyer asked Skretny to consider the significance of his client's testimony against his fellow officers.

"There were comments made and looks shot," attorney Justin D. Ginter said of the other officers in the courtroom that day. "He took all that in stride."

The teenagers' arrest on Treehaven Road in 2009 followed their involvement in a drive-by BB gun shooting at Main and Custer streets earlier that night.

All four 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.

Two of the teens, Donald J. Silmon and Jeffrey E. Campbell II, later sued the city and won monetary settlements. During the trial, Silmon testified that it was Krug who shot him in the leg with the BB gun.

The defense countered with evidence of 18 other BB gun shootings that night, and an eyewitness took the stand to testify that he saw the teens' car leaving the scene of one of those shootings.

The defense also accused the four teens of lying under oath about the extent of their criminal activity that night.

In the end, the jury found Krug and Wendel not guilty.

Kwiatkowski's conviction is the result of an investigation by the FBI and Buffalo police.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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