The last two weeks have produced a sea change in public opinion regarding police use of force and police accountability, even as the country struggles with fallouts from protests that have been at times violent and destructive. Perhaps no case illustrates that more clearly than the story of Cariol Horne, who was a police officer in Buffalo, New York, until she was fired in 2008.
Horne’s case was a source of controversy locally in Buffalo, although it did not gain much national traction at the time. The events of the altercation that led to Horne’s termination are hotly disputed. In November 2006, a number of Buffalo police officers encountered a man named David Mack, who was in a state of violent agitation due to a domestic dispute.
Deputies were able to restrain Mack and place him in handcuffs, but according to a number of the officers on the scene, Mack was still agitated and not compliant with police commands. That’s when a white officer named Gregory Kwiatowski began to apply a chokehold to Mack.
According to Horne, she became concerned that Kwiatowski might kill Mack in the course of subduing him, and verbally told him to stop. When he refused, she physically intervened to break up the chokehold.
The Buffalo Police Department conducted an investigation into the incident and harshly criticized Horne for her actions, claiming that her “actions created a substantial danger to the lives of all individuals in the incident, including Mr. Mack.” Many black police officers in the department sharply criticized the report when it was issued as an obvious case of wagon circling.
As a result of the report, Horne was issued departmental discipline, which she refused and appealed to an arbitrator per the terms of her union contract. That arbitrator recommended that she be fired, and a judge subsequently upheld the arbitrator’s verdict, resulting in Horne’s termination. She had served on the force for 19 years and was eligible for pension benefits with one more year of service.
Of note, one year after Horne was terminated, Officer Kwiatowski arrested four black suspects ages 16-18 on suspicion of using a BB gun earlier that night. Kwiatowski would later be charged with federal crimes for the incident and would plead guilty to having used “unreasonable and excessive” force on those suspects. He was ultimately sentenced to four months’ house arrest for the crime.
Horne’s case has bubbled back to the surface after all these years because of the question many in America are asking about the other police officers who were present when Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck: “Why didn’t the other officers intervene?” Long-time police reform advocates have raised Horne’s case as one possible explanation, as evidence that officers around the country may well have gotten the idea from Horne’s case that doing so would lead to their termination and loss of pension.
Now, however, the Buffalo Common Council passed a resolution Tuesday night asking the state attorney general to take another look at Horne’s case. Horne’s case was due to be discussed at a Police Oversight Committee meeting in two months, but Councilmember Chris Scanlon said, “In light of recent events, I think that seven, eight weeks, nearly two months, is far too long to wait for answers from the administration of the Buffalo Police Department.”
The Buffalo Police Department has come under national scrutiny after two police officers shoved 75-year-old peace activist Martin Gugino, injuring his head. The department’s initial statement on the incident falsely stated that Gugino “tripped and fell.”
Since her termination, Horne has become an anti-police brutality activist and has sought to have police accountability legislation passed.