In 2006, former Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne was fired for trying to stop another officer who is white from using a chokehold on an unarmed handcuffed black suspect, after repeatedly punching him while other officers just stood by watching. That action did save the man’s life, but eventually cost her her job.
Now, after many many years the heroic officer has been vindicated in the court of law, winning the legal fight to collect her pension. While the said white officer, Kwiatkowski himself retired in 2011. He pleaded in 2012 and was convicted of violating the civil rights of four Black teenagers. He spent four months in prison.
Victory came at long last after a state Supreme Court judge overturned Horne’s dismissal on Tuesday, clearing her name – back then, the whole story was twisted and instead she was accused of violently attacking her fellow officer who was “trying to stop the suspect from reaching out for a gun.” Now after the verdict, Horne can collect back pay and the pension she’s been long denied.
“It feels awesome. It feels absolutely wonderful that after 15 years that I can now breathe a little easier,” Horne told As It Happens host Carol Off.
In his ruling, Judge Dennis Ward references the recent U.S. police killings of George Floyd and Eric Garner, and quotes civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., writing: “The time is always right to do right.”
“The judge gets it,” Horne said.
‘Greg, you’re choking him’
Horne recalls saying during the Incident. According to her, officer, Gregory Kwiatkowski, put the suspect in a chokehold, and she heard him say, “I can’t breathe.” Same words uttered by #GeorgeFloyd before he died at the hands of #DerekChauvin
“I said, ‘Greg, you’re choking him,’ thinking he’ll stop, but he didn’t,” Horne said. “I had to react or he could have been another George Floyd.”
She says she grabbed Kwiatkowski’s arm from around the man’s neck.
The man who was being arrested, Neal Mack, told CBS This Morning last year that he believes Horne saved his life that day.
Afterwards, Horne was reassigned and dealt with departmental charges. In 2008, she was fired — just one year short of the 20 she needed to collect her pension.
She stood by her story and Kwiatkowski sued her for defamation, winning a $65,000 US judgment against her.
“My life was turned upside down,” she said. “I was homeless. I went through depression and PTSD from the incident. It was just horrible.”
While Horne has belted the victory and won her pension back, she knows there’s still much work to be done in police reforms.
Cariol’s Law was recently signed into effect in Buffalo, and Horne says she wants it to be adopted nationwide, and include a registry of offenders, so officers can’t “just hop from department to department when they have a bad record.”
“I believe that I have laid the foundation to change the culture, so now they just have to adhere to it. And if not, maybe a judge like the honourable Judge Ward can make that possible so that bad officers will be held accountable if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do and stop police brutality if they see it happening,” she said.
“Police officers are the only ones who can do that. Because as we saw in the George Floyd case, there were bystanders and none of them could go up and save George Floyd’s life. But one of those three officers could have.”