As a conversation about excessive force by police sweeps the nation, one former police officer has been vindicated 15 years after she was terminated for forcibly removing a white officer who placed a handcuffed Black man in a chokehold.
Cariol Horne, a former Buffalo police officer, was fired, faced departmental charges and left without a pension after the 2006 incident, according to the New York Times.
On Tuesday, the New York Supreme Court vacated an earlier ruling from 2010 that affirmed her firing. Horne is now entitled to back wages, benefits and enough credit to receive her pension.
“To her credit, Officer Horne did not merely standby, but instead sought to intervene, despite the penalty she ultimately paid for doing so,” Justice Dennis Ward wrote in the state court’s decision. “While the Eric Garners and George Floyds of the world never had a chance for a ‘do over,’ at least here the correction can be done.”
USA TODAY has reached out to Horne for comment
In November 2006, Horne, who is Black, responded to a call of a colleague in need of help. A woman had accused her ex-boyfriend, David Neal Mack, of stealing her Social Security check for $626, The Buffalo News reported.
While attempting to take Mack into custody, a struggle ensued and Horne saw the white officer put Mack into a chokehold.
When Horne heard the handcuffed man say he couldn’t breathe, she forcibly removed the white officer. The officer and Horne were then seen throwing punches at each other in the driveway of Mack’s home according to witnesses and police The Buffalo News interviewed at the time of the incident.
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The white officer, Gregory Kwiatkowski, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident and would later go on to successfully sue Horne for defamation, winning a $65,000 judgment.
He would later be sentenced to four months in prison in an unrelated 2009 case involving four black teenagers. He was convicted of deprivation of rights under color of law.
“Lt. Kwiatkowski used unlawful and unreasonable force on each of the four occupants,” a release from the Western District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office said at the time.
Horne was reassigned after the altercation and later fired in 2008, one year before the 20-year-mark she needed to receive her full pension. She tried for many years to have the decision overturned to no avail.
In her fight, Horne received local support that led to the Buffalo Common Council adopting Cariol’s Law, which created a duty for an officer to intervene when observing force “he or she reasonably believes to be clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable.” The law was passed on September 29, 2020.
Tuesday’s ruling comes on the heels of the Derek Chauvin case where the prosecution and defense continue to argue if a 9-minute chokehold led to the death of George Floyd.
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“I can’t breathe,” were the words George Floyd said to officers, a phrase that became a mantra used as people protested his death last spring in cities around the country. They are also the words of a man Horne stopped the chokehold on many years ago.
“My vindication comes at a 15-year cost, but what has been gained could not be measured,” she said in a statement to the New York Times. “I never wanted another police officer to go through what I had gone through for doing the right thing.”