Press Advisory on AG Investigation

Press Advisory and  Statements from Buffalo-Black Lives Matter Members, Supporters and Allies from Western New York Peace Center, Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition, Buffalo United Community Coalition, the Western New York Law Center and Cornell Law School

December 12, 2017

Buffalo-Black Lives Matter members and supporters welcome the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) initiation of an investigation into the Buffalo Police Department’s reported patterns of misconduct and illegal searches and seizures in response to our request for an investigation in September 2017. The Attorney General initiated its investigation in a letter to Buffalo Corporate Counsel, Timothy Ball last week. In the letter, the OAG requested that the City produce documents related to Buffalo Police checkpoint and trespass enforcement policies and procedures. While the letter explicitly referenced and directed production of documents concerning two of the separate suspicionless policies that we identified to be illegal, the letter referred generally to our complaint and report documenting how the “Buffalo Police Department (“BPD”) has engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing that disproportionately affects people of color.”

The complaint and report filed with the Attorney General, link available here, was researched by students at UB and Cornell Law Schools Students under supervision of Cornell Law Professors Beth Lyon and Gerald Torres and Anjana Malhotra, as an Associate Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School on behalf of Buffalo-Black Lives Matter and a collective of Buffalo police accountability activists and leaders. The primary author is Anjana Malhotra, with significant contributions by the joint legal team, including former UB Law student De’Jon Hall. More details follow in a full advisory.

Following are statements from Buffalo Black Lives Matter Members, Supporters and Allies from Western New York Peace Center, Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition, Buffalo United Community Coalition, the Western New York Law Center and Cornell Law School about the New York State Attorney General’s decision to open an investigation into the Buffalo Police Department in response to the Buffalo-BLM, Cornell and UB Law Schools’ petition documenting widespread unconstitutional policing tactics:

De’Jon Hall, Member, Black Lives Matter-Buffalo; Research Team Leader, Buffalo-Black Lives Matter Report and Complaint

“While we welcome the Attorney General’s investigation, we hope the OAG’s investigation signals-and will lead to justice for-Wardel Davis and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, two young unarmed men of color killed at the hands of the BPD. At the heart of it, the OAG is investigating the same widespread suspicionless, discriminatory broken windows Buffalo policing strategy that led to the death of Wardel Davis– a young 19 year old, unarmed African American man– last February as he was walking to his house, based on specious – if any – evidence of wrongdoing.

It is the Buffalo Police Department’s unconstitutional and misguided policing strategy that led Buffalo Police Officers to stop Jose Hernandez-Rossy, a 26 year old unarmed father of three, who was pulled over for allegedly “smoking a marijuana cigarette.” This stop led to a struggle that ended with a BPD officer getting down on one knee and shooting Mr. Hernadez-Rossy in the back-from half a block away.

Lastly, it is the callous blindness and top-down culture of impunity from the highest Buffalo Police, City, and Buffalo Municipal Housing that led to all the abuses we documented, directed toward unjustified conduct to African Americans. The BPD operates in the absence of sufficient accountability systems, that have allowed the city to callously promote the false narrative that Mr. Hernandez-Rossy had a gun and shot a BPD officer—a charade that BPD continued for three days after the BPD Officer underwent surgery.

Until justice is provided to the families of Wardel Davis and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, and residents of Buffalo by holding the officials and BPD officers subject to the highest penalties available under law, until the City of Buffalo creates a police accountability mechanism free from mayoral influence and elected by their residents, until policies and procedures – ultimately the culture – are changed within the BPD, we must not rest.”

John Washington, Member and Supporter, Black Lives Matter – Buffalo, 716-704-8843

“The Buffalo Police Department needs to be held to an equal, if not a greater standard than the people are. They are here to protect us. Right now, the Buffalo police acts as if they can violate the rights of the people whenever, wherever and however they want. This year this culture, sanctioned from the top, led to two unarmed men of color dying, and too many people of color stopped, arrested and assaulted and swept into the criminal justice system for no reason at all. This has to stop.

We hope the AG will use his full power to stop the Buffalo Police Department’s discriminatory policing for gentrification and instead of protecting and serving the people. The AG’s initiation of an investigation is a good sign, but their request of checkpoint data going only as far back as 2015 is deeply concerning when we know they have been using these checkpoints since 2013 in ways that violate the equal protection of our city’s east side residents. The people of the City of Buffalo have had their rights systematically violated for generations, recently two had their lives taken, and we need the Attorney General to do everything in his power to hold the perpetrators of their deaths accountable and end the oppression that continues terrorizing our people.”

Professor Gerald Torres, Cornell Law School Jane M.G Foster Professor of Law;  Co-Supervisor of Cornell and UB Law School Legal Team representing Buffalo-Black Lives Matter , 607-254-1630

“If the police cannot be trusted to be just then no one is safe.”

Anjana Malhotra, Lead Author of Report, Co-supervisor of UB and Cornell Law Schools Race and Policing and Black Lives Matter student team, and Co-Counsel, 917-583-5849

“We hope the initiation of this investigation marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Buffalo Police Department—that is accountable to all members of the community.  We also hope that the Attorney General’s recognition of these deep-seated problems indicates that the Attorney Justice will also bring reform for the families and friends of Wardel Davis and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, killed at the hands of the Buffalo Police Department this year. The recurrent problems in the Buffalo Police Department begin at the top with the policies that authorize stops and searches without any legal justification, and have created a culture of unconstitutional policing with impunity, with a disproportionate impact on Buffalo’s residents of color. Their consistent denials of any legal problem only compound their absence of accountability.

The AG’s intervention is necessary because the policies and practices we documented were directed by the highest officials from the City, BMHA and BPD and have exacted a serious toll for all Buffalo residents—making all residents less safe.

Buffalo residents, particularly people of color, feel as if they are under occupation by an armed force that is at war with them, rather than being there to protect them and that their priorities are meeting revenue quotas rather than public security. This has corroded all trust in law enforcement, and is the sort of environment in which police are more likely to harm and kill innocent residents-with impunity. The City tried to hide its misconduct and racially disproportionate practices through manipulating the data, council districts and flat denials,  but we are confident the AG’s investigation will uncover the truth and the devastating scope of racially disproportionate illegal policing in Buffalo. This has been a top-down coordinated program from the start. The City’s highest leaders ordered these illegal policies, creating a culture of lawlessness that largely goes unsanctioned; and are now trying to cover it up. The City of Buffalo will never progress and address these serious problems of police  misconduct law so long as it lies about police violence and engages in victim blaming: it erodes trust and also obviates any solution making.  The East Side, and many minority communities, have essentially become a constitution free zone.

This did not arise from one individual, or even a group of individuals, but from an inherited institutional culture of misconduct and illegal policing tactics allowed by the highest City leaders. This cultural change involves intensive training and functioning, independent accountability systems, and begins with penalizing individuals on the Buffalo lethal police force who engage in this conduct to the fullest extent of the law”

Heron Simmonds-Price, WNY Peace Center, Buffalo-Black Lives Matter, Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition, 716-480-0006

“The connection between deadly policing and check points and stop and frisk in Buffalo is police culture.  That culture is racist. It is built on an unchecked and illegal presumption of guilt suspicion and dangerousness, unfoundedly assigned to people of color.  Not necessarily every police officer is bigoted, but there is a deep culture in the Buffalo Police Department of bias against people of color and poor folks.”

 Brenda Herndon, Member and Supporter, Black Lives Matter, friend of the late Wardel Davis 716-480-0006

“We support this investigation because it is long past time that the Buffalo Police put an end to the war against Black and Brown people and be held accountable for their lawless actions. We have been stopped for no reason and treated without justice and dignity for too long.  The City of Buffalo has criminalized our communities and put too many of our children and adults into the criminal justice system, cutting short their opportunities.

We demand the AG also provide justice for our friends Wardel Davis and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, the two young men of color tragically and ruthlessly killed at the hands of the BPD this year. We demand prosecution of the officers to the fullest extent of the law. All four officers responsible for their deaths are still on full duty on the streets of Buffalo, with  no sanctions, much less training. We can never get Meech or Jose back, but we hope the AG will finally provide justice to them and their families, by prosecuting the officers, the City officials who have participated in the illegal policies that lead to their death, and bring an end to the BPD’s lawless culture and war on our communities so we, our sons, daughters, family members and neighbors can feel safe.

The Attorney General, and ultimately the local government and the public must hold Buffalo police officers and City leaders accountable for this loss of human life, the continuing misconduct that makes our families unsafe, and the loss of brown and brown lives unnecessarily thrown into the criminal justice system. Our government can no longer be silent, it must stand on the side of all residents of this City equally, and hold its officers accountable.”

Acour Dour, Black Lives Matter

‘The BPD’s racist culture and policing practices that systemically disregard black lives have led to the deaths of two young, unarmed men of color, Wardel Davis Jose Hernandez-Rossy, in Buffalo in police encounters that never should have happened in the first place. The Buffalo Police Department is infected with dehumanizing and dangerous racism. Instead of keeping us safe, the Buffalo Police do not protect and serve our communities—they target us without any legal reason, erode our trust and put us at risk by treating all of us as suspects. We hope the AG’s investigation and process brings an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people. Officers Parisi, McCallister and Tedesco must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We hope the BPD’s investigation finally reigns in the disregard and harm to Black communities and results in accountability and a City where those most impacted in our communities have control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us with policing, as well as our schools to our local budgets, economies, police departments, and our land. The BPD, City and BMHA must respect that the rights and dignity must be respected equally.

We demand accountability and direct democratic community control of our police force. We hope the AG can begin to check the police’s misconduct and assault on brown and black communities and ultimately gives us — communities most harmed by destructive policing– the power to hire and fire officers, determine disciplinary action, control budgets and policies, subpoena relevant agency information and full transparencies. Only then, and after those police officers in Buffalo who violate our rights are held accountable, can there be justice.”

 Keisha Williams, Staff Attorney, Western New York Law Center, Tel: 716-855-0203 ext 105

“The New York State Office of the Attorney General’s (“OAG”) decision to open an investigation into the BPD policing practices is a significant step towards holding the BPD accountable.  As the OAG referenced in its letter to the city regarding its investigation, the complaint and report from Black Lives Matter-Buffalo, and allies by Cornell and UB Law Schools to the documented statistics showing that the Buffalo Police Department (“BPD”) has engaged in a widespread pattern of racially biased policing, as well as stop and frisk, trespass sweeps, retaliation and a failure to hold officers accountable.

We support this investigation because the BPD illegal police checkpoint program in residential neighborhoods has not just failed to achieve the City and Police’s stated purpose of crime control, but undermined community safety and trust in the police. Instead, the BPD through this program has diverted resources from legitimate public safety needs, reinforced racial stereotyping, and exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in the City of Buffalo.

According to the report, BPD’s checkpoint program disproportionately targeted in neighborhoods of color resulting in a significant increase in the number of minorities in criminal justice system and unnecessary-and indignifying-police encounters. This program has been used as a revenue generator by the City through fees and fines. A cost that is borne mainly by people of color and especially by African American communities, exacerbating pre-existing disparities.”

Taniqua Simmons, Buffalo United Community Coalition, 716-444-2188

“It is my hope that the Attorney General Investigation will be thorough.

The BPD has been violating the constitutional rights of an entire community. These violations of constitutional rights have included unlawful arrest, unlawful searches and seizures, and resulted in the loss of property, freedom, job and income, hefty tickets, fines, and fees all on the taxpayers dime. These checkpoints are unconstitutional based upon the fact that the Buffalo Police Department has yet not been forthright with documentation that is required to be kept by law.

Checkpoints are constitutional if strict guidelines are followed. If these guidelines were followed then all of the data from the last 5 years would have been readily available and already presented. The fact that this hasn’t taken place indicates that Buffalo Police Department have something to hide.

So, we are confident that the Attorney General’s Investigation will confirm that the Civil Rights of area Buffalo residents were violated and hope they will end these illegal practices. We hope that ending these illegal practices will put an end to the police state that East Side and minority residents throughout the city have been forced to endure. Bringing forth better community and police relations while making the community whole.

Most importantly people have lost faith in the system and hopefully this investigation will restore it.”

*****

Press Advisory: Buffalo-Black Lives Matter Coalition Welcomes New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Investigation Into the Buffalo Police Department In Response to Their Complaint and Report Documenting Widespread Police Misconduct and Unconstitutional Policies and Practices

Black Lives Matter-Buffalo members and supporters welcome the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) initiation of an investigation into the Buffalo Police Department’s reported patterns of misconduct and illegal searches and seizures in response to our request for an investigation in September 2017. The Attorney General initiated its investigation in a letter to Buffalo Corporate Counsel, Timothy Ball last week. In the letter. the OAG requested that the City produce documents related to Buffalo Police checkpoint and trespass enforcement policies and procedures. While the letter explicitly referenced and directed production of documents concerning two of the separate suspicionless policies that we identified to be illegal, the letter referred generally to our complaint and report documenting how the “Buffalo Police Department (“BPD”) has engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing that disproportionately affects people of color.”

The complaint and report filed with the Attorney General, link available here, was researched by students at UB and Cornell Law Schools Students under supervision of Cornell Law Professors Beth Lyon and Gerald Torres and Anjana Malhotra, as an Associate Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School on behalf of Buffalo-Black Lives Matter and a collective of Buffalo police accountability activists and leaders. The primary author is Anjana Malhotra, with significant contributions by Professors Lyons, Torres, Parker MacKay and their former clinical law students UB and Cornell Law Schools from the 2016-2017, including De’Jon Hall, Edoardo Murillo, Mario Roque, Elana Max, Bill Pike and Melanie Prasad. Former students in Malhotra’s SUNY Buffalo Law School Immigration and Human Rights Clinic Spring 2015 Race and Policing Team also contributed to the original research into policing issues, including Ammad Rafiqi, Alex Verdi, Brandon Walsh and Ben Nelson.

This report, Authority Without Accountability, is the culmination of our legal investigation and analysis, which included interviews with victims of police misconduct, as well as of civil and court cases since 2013, DOJ Criminal Civil Rights investigations into the BPD, legal settlements with residents, government and other official reports and policies.  The report documents how the BPD has engaged in a pattern and practice of conduct that violates the U.S. Constitution or federal law, as well the Constitution and laws of New York State. Specifically, we found, and alleged to the Attorney General, that the BPD engages in a widespread and serious pattern or practice of:

  • making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests, with no legal justification, including systematic top-down illegal suspicionless checkpoints and trespass sweeps;
  • using racially-targeted and racially-biased enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans, Latinos and racial minorities in Buffalo, driven at least in part by racial bias;
  • excessive use of force, particularly against individuals of color, especially after individuals are restrained. Particularly, we found that the BPD’s use of overly aggressive tactics unnecessarily escalate police encounters that result in excessive and unlawful force, particularly with minority men. In addition, we found that BPD Officers frequently assault “suspects” even after restrained, engage in pursuits and assaults with no, or insufficient, evidence to suspect fear of violence to the officer and community;
  • retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression, including filing complaints with the BPD and publicly challenging BPD policies, leading to a lack of redress.
  • Making repeated false statements and misrepresentations to justify illegal stops, searches and use of force-in court and publicly-to unjustly displace blame onto the victims
  • Failure of accountability mechanisms, and a de facto culture promoting impunity and lawlessness leading repeat offenders to remain on the force
  • Undermining trust of minority residents, with misguided, illegal policies that target rather than protect our communities, and failing to keep all communities safe.

We further documented how this pattern or practice of illegal policing is driven by prioritization of policing policies on revenue and a racialized “urban renewal” campaign, as well as clear and systematic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, supervision and accountability structures that both direct and allow officers to use policing strategies in violation of fundamental constitutional guarantees with impunity. The BPD and City fail to provide officers with policing directives within the strictures of the Constitution and fail to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

BPD’s unconstitutional stops, searches, uses of force and arrests are the results of the highest level government officials and policies, which have directed illegal policies and sanctioned a longstanding culture and practice of overly aggressive-and often illegal-street enforcement with deficient oversight, training and often unconstitutional policy guidance. For example, Mayor Byron Brown and BPD Chief Daniel Derenda, initiated the unconstitutional police checkpoints in residential neighborhoods—often with military equipment– for the expressly illegal purpose of general crime control in 2013. These checkpoints, according to official statements, have happened everyday since 2013 in predominantly minority communities.  The report documented other per se illegal policies and a culture of impunity within the BPD, and how the highest Buffalo officials allows too many officers stay on the police force even after repeated, egregious incidents of violence or brutality–and have even been promoted.  As our report shows, those who try to raise concerns about the BPD face retaliation and even more brutality.

We hope the AG investigation will address the current practices have lead to a repeat, brutal offenders on the Buffalo Police force — and a culture of impunity where officers who engage in misconduct, violence and brutality face no sanction — and force the BPD to end its damaging, and now fatal, culture of lawlessness. It is far past time for the City to recognize that black lives matter, end unchecked police violence and illegal tactics–and to ensure the safety of Buffalo residents equally, instead of presuming people of color are suspects. The City has proved unable or unwilling to do this despite to our repeated complaints of overpolicing and illegal tactics over the years, and we hope the AG will serve as a check to bring the Buffalo Police Department under control and treat and protect all residents with dignity and respect.

Press Contacts:

  • De’Jon Hall, Member, Black Lives Matter-Buffalo; Research Team Leader, Buffalo-Black Lives Matter Report and Complaint
  • Brenda Herndon, Member and Supporter, Black Lives Matter, friend of the late Wardel Davis 716-480-0006
  • John Washington, Member and Supporter, Black Lives Matter Buffalo, 716-704-8843
  • Keisha Williams, Staff Attorney, Western New York Law Center, Tel: 716-855-0203 ext 105
  • Anjana Malhotra, Lead Author of Report, Co-supervisor of UB and Cornell Law Schools Race and Policing and Black Lives Matter student team, and Co-Counsel, 917-583-5849
  • Professor Gerald Torres, Cornell Law School Jane M.G Foster Professor of Law; Co-Supervisor of Cornell and UB Law School Legal Team representing Buffalo-Black Lives Matter , 607-254-1630
  • Heron Simmonds-Price, WNY Peace Center, Buffalo-Black Lives Matter, Buffalo Anti-Racism Committee, 716-480-0006
  • Taniqua Simmons, Buffalo United Community Coalition, 716-444-2188
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