Apr 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Judge rules in favor of Black officer fired for stopping colleague's chokehold

A man holds his fist in the air in front of a placard that reads 'I can't breathe' at Town Hall in solidarity with protests in the United States on June 06, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Former Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne said she heard a handcuffed man say he couldn't breathe when a colleague placed him in a chokehold. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

A New York court on Tuesday reinstated the pension of former Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne, who was fired for intervening when a white colleague had a Black man in a chokehold during a 2006 arrest.

Driving the news: State Supreme Court Judge Dennis Ward noted in his ruling similar cases, like the death of George Floyd. Ward said the role of other officers at the scene in such instances had come under scrutiny, "particularly their complicity in failing to intervene to save the life of a person to whom such unreasonable physical force is being applied."

"To her credit, Officer Horne did not merely stand by, but instead sought to intervene, despite the penalty she ultimately paid for doing so ... She saved a life that day, and history will now record her for the hero she is."
— Judge Ward
  • Ward partially based his decision to overturn a 2010 ruling that upheld her firing on legislation signed by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in October, known as "Cariol's Law" — which makes it a "crime for a law enforcement officer to fail to intervene when another officer is using excessive force and also protects whistleblowers," per the Buffalo News.

The big picture: Horne, who is Black, said she heard the handcuffed man say he couldn't breathe — invoking the deaths in police custody of Floyd and Eric Garner, two Black men who said this in their dying words, which have become a "national rallying cry against police brutality," the New York Times notes.

  • Horne said her fellow officer punched her in the face when she tried to stop him.
  • The Buffalo Police Department claimed she had put her fellow officers at risk and she was fired in 2008, per NPR.
  • There was no video of the incident.

Of note: The judge ruling in favor of Horne's lawsuit means Horne will receive a full pension, backpay and benefits.

What they're saying: Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Institute director Ronald Sullivan, an attorney representing Horne, said in a statement the ruling was "a significant step in correcting an injustice."

  • The legal team was grateful to the court for acknowledging that "to her credit Officer Horne did not merely stand by, but instead sought to intervene, despite the penalty she ultimately paid for doing so," he added.
  • City of Buffalo spokesperson Michael DeGeorge told 7 Eyewitness News in a statement, "The City has always supported any additional judicial review available to Officer Horne and respects the Court's Decision."

Read the decision and judgment in full, via DocumentCloud:

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