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Black Buffalo police officer fired for trying to stop chokehold wins lawsuit, to get full pension

Cariol Horne said hopes to continue to push for accountability in police departments and is urging lawmakers to pass similar legislation.

Black Buffalo police officer fired for trying to stop chokehold wins lawsuit, to get full pension
Representative Image Source: Getty Images/kali9

Cariol Horne was a police officer in 2006 who was fired after she tried to stop her White colleague from fatally brutalizing a Black man. She saw that her colleague had not only handcuffed the Black man but also had him in a chokehold after beating him up. Horne, who is a Black woman, heard the handcuffed Neal Mack say that he could not breathe. So she decided to step in before officer Greg Kwiatkowski killed him. The New York Times reported that the two officers exchanged blows as Horne forcibly removed Kwiatkowski from choking Mack to death. Horne was fired after being reassigned and hit with departmental charges a year shy of 20 that would have allowed her to collect her full pension.



In light of recent police brutality, especially the case of George Floyd, this incident bears a stark resemblance to it. Horne was clearly the wrong cop persecuted in this instance since a similar intervention would have saved Floyd's life in 2020 and countless others in the preceding years. But Horne, who had served on the Buffalo police force for 19 of the 20 years required to receive a pension, was told that she was not eligible for it. "The message was sent that you don't cross that blue line and so some officers -- many officers don't," she told CNN.



"I had five children and I lost everything but [the suspect] did not lose his life," Horne said. "So, if I have nothing else to live for in life, at least I can know that I did the right thing and that [he] still breathes." She was fired mere months before the completion of her 20th year of service. For nearly 15 years now, Horne has been fighting against the unfair treatment she went through. But finally, she has been vindicated after the lawsuit she filed all those years ago was ruled in her favor. She will also receive her pension, and the judge vacated an earlier court ruling upholding her dismissal.



Judge Dennis Ward wrote in the ruling, according to CBS News, that "the City of Buffalo has recognized the error and has acknowledged the need to undo an injustice from the past. The legal system can at the very least be the mechanism to help justice prevail, even if belatedly." He added, "While the Eric Garners and the George Floyds of the world never had a chance for a 'do-over,' at least here the correction can be done." Eric Garner was another Black man who was put in a chokehold by a police officer and killed in 2014.  "If everyone is not vindicated then I'm not vindicated," Horne said of the ruling and that she would continue to push for accountability in police departments.


She is now calling on lawmakers across the country to pass similar legislation to Buffalo's "Cariol's Law," which would legally protect police officers to intervene in particularly tricky situations. "I never wanted another Police Officer to go through what I had gone through for doing the right thing," she said. Additionally, Ward mentioned that Kwiatkowski's 2018 arrest for the 2009 incident of his, using "unlawful and unreasonable force" was not disclosed in the original court hearings. "Likewise, the current societal view toward the use of chokeholds and physical force in effecting arrests along with the City of Buffalo's expression of specific disapproval of such force by legislative enactment has altered the landscape," Ward added.



While Horne was fired, Kwiatkowski was promoted to lieutenant the same year. W. Neil Eggleston, Horne's lawyer, stated, "Her conduct should have been encouraged and instead she was fired." The law passed now gives officers who were terminated in the past 20 years for intervening in the use of excessive force a chance to challenge their firings. "And after George Floyd, we really understand what happens if officers don’t act like that," Eggleston said.


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