At the end of it all, an ex-Buffalo police officer cleared of stalking years ago lost her federal lawsuit against the two police officers she sued for malicious prosecution.
A jury verdict Friday for the officers came more than six years after Ann M. Zwick, the former police officer, was arrested on a charge of stalking Buffalo police Lt. Mark Cyrek, her former boyfriend. After a Cheektowaga town justice dismissed both the initial stalking charge and a refiled charge against her, she sued Cyrek and Christopher Wierzbowski, the Cheektowaga police officer who responded to Cyrek's 911 call about her reported presence in his neighborhood at 11:30 p.m. on June 24, 2016.
The jury concluded the weeklong trial with a unanimous verdict after reviewing arrest reports and text messages between Zwick and Cyrek and listening to emotional testimony about their turbulent on-again, off-again seven-year relationship.
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But the police officers already accomplished their goal before the trial even started, her lawyers said.
Chad A. Davenport, one of Zwick's lawyers, accused the officers of coming up with a bogus stalking charge against her so she could be handcuffed and then fingerprinted and photographed when booked.
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"These charges were not about seeking a conviction," Davenport said of the stalking charges. "They wanted the process to be the punishment."
Cyrek, 49, testified he just wanted Zwick, 50, to leave him alone after their relationship ended.
He said he made it abundantly clear to her verbally to stop texting, sending emails and showing up at his Cheektowaga home uninvited.
"She has called, texted and emailed after I blocked her numbers. She has driven down my street," Cyrek recounted to jurors what he told Wierzbowski that June night.
Cyrek told jurors how one of his children who was returning home after being out came running into the house frightened by a vehicle "following them." Cyrek said Zwick's vehicle pulled into his driveway "and she yelled out."
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"I can take a lot," he told jurors. "But when it starts affecting my children and other people, I can't allow that."
Warrants for her arrest
So Cyrek called 911 for the police and gave his account, showing Wierzbowski the text messages he had received from her in the previous months.
Zwick denied following anyone that night. And Wierzbowski did not see her vehicle when he drove around the neighborhood.
He said he attempted to contact her at her residence, without success, but he acknowledged he did not try calling her, even though he had her phone number from Cyrek.
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The Cheektowaga police officer filed a report based on what the Buffalo police lieutenant told him – without talking to her.
A town justice signed a warrant for her arrest, but Zwick said she didn't learn about it until about seven weeks later by happenstance at the Lancaster police station, where she stopped by for an unrelated matter.
When told of the Cheektowaga warrant, she went to Cheektowaga court with a lawyer, and the town justice immediately dismissed the stalking charge after hearing from her lawyer.
Cheektowaga police sought to book Zwick after the town justice had already dismissed the charge against her and sealed the court file, because they did not get a chance to book her before she went into court as they normally would for someone turning themselves in because of a warrant. Her lawyer at the time intervened to stop them from doing so. After about 30 minutes of not being allowed to leave the town court, she was allowed to leave without being processed.
She didn't know it at the time, but her processing would come soon enough.
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Two days later, a stalking charge against her was refiled under a different subsection of the law. For the new charge, Wierzbowski said he wrote the new charging papers at the instruction of a prosecutor.
Another warrant was issued. Zwick said she didn't know about that one, either, until three Cheektowaga police officers showed up at the Depew salon where she worked as a hair stylist.
Earlier in the federal court case, Zwick recounted how the officers "abruptly grab me and cuff me" at about 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2016, at the salon.
"I was pulled out of my store, then they sat me in the car for probably 20 minutes in front of my store," she recounted. "It was frigging embarrassing."
She spent the night in custody, recalling it as "the worst night of my entire life. They treated me like a dirty criminal."
In January 2017, then-Town Justice Paul S. Piotrowski dismissed the refiled stalking charge, just as he had the initial charge.
The town justice said it was clear from the record that what Wierzbowski charged with was not based on any independent knowledge, which Zwick's lawyers stressed during the federal trial.
"He had her number," Davenport said. "Wierzbowski had an obligation to talk to her before charging her. This case is about a man who did his job poorly. Some might say he didn't do his job at all."
The town justice noted Cyrek's supporting deposition included the claims he received a lot of emails and numerous texts and telephone calls from Zwick that he did not welcome, but he did not claim that they were threatening or harmful. Piotrowski dismissed the refiled charge with prejudice, meaning the charge could not be refiled again. Piotrowski said none of the communications he reviewed were threatening, harmful or offensive in nature.
Piotrowski concluded "the communications were a desperate attempt by a broken-hearted woman to change her former partner's mind to reengage in the relationship," and could not have materially harmed Cyrek's mental or emotional health.
In the federal suit, Zwick's lawyers, Davenport and R. Anthony Rupp III, sought to portray Wierzbowski as a police buddy who did Cyrek's bidding to lodge the stalking charge without probable cause.
"I was falsely charged not once but twice for the same alleged incident, forced to spend a horrible night in a jail cell for no good reason other than the defendants were angry their bogus charge was dismissed outright without a trial and on first appearance," Zwick said in a statement to The Buffalo News. "The town court judge dismissed both charges without a trial.
"I sought justice in federal court but did not receive it. The judge kept out any evidence favorable to my case including the town judge's lengthily written decision dismissing once again but this time with prejudice. The jury was confused about the law during deliberation, wanted clarification but did not get it. The defendants and their attorneys blamed the victim. I intend to appeal."
Charged without giving her side
Wierzbowski said the first time he met Cyrek was when he responded to the 911 call.
"He told me his ex-girlfriend had been driving past his house," and had also been calling, texting and threatening to try to get him fired from the police department.
"He doesn't want to be a prisoner in his house anymore," Wierzbowski recalled Cyrek telling him that night.
As for his unsuccessful attempt to locate Zwick, the Cheektowaga officer told jurors, "With domestics, you don't have have to talk to both parties. Sometimes you can't get both sides. It helps, but it's not always necessary."
The lawyers for Wierzbowski – Paul G. Joyce and Marc S. Smith – contended he did his job properly.
When Cyrek spotted Zwick that night, "he didn't call his drinking buddies. He called 911," Smith told jurors.
Wierzbowski showed up and did his job, Smith said.
"Ms. Zwick was arrested because of a warrant," he said. "It's issued by a judge – not Christopher Wierzbowski."
Attorney Michael A. Benson, who represented Cyrek, urged jurors to read Zwick's text messages, which were put into evidence.
While she may have sent them trying to rekindle a relationship, Benson pointed to racial slurs she made about a woman Cyrek was dating.
"Read the text messages," Benson said. "That is not rekindling. You'll see it's harassment."
Zwick, who previously went by Ann Vanyo, was fired from the Buffalo Police Department in 2014 after 17 years on the force after an independent hearing officer ruled there were grounds for her dismissal.
She was known for her strong police work and arrests of armed suspects, but was brought up on disciplinary charges when she reportedly threatened to kill a woman she thought was making moves on her boyfriend. She denied threatening the woman, but the hearing officer found her guilty of failing to follow departmental rules under devotion to duty, violating requirements under reporting for duty and violating rules pertaining to conduct of an officer.