A violent cell phone video surfaced last week showing Buffalo cops viciously hitting and kicking a handcuffed man as he is already down on the ground, and the images have led the Buffalo Police Department to take the six officers seen in the video off the street as the incident is investigated not only by BPD internal affairs detectives, but by the FBI as well.
The incident was caught on tape by a bystander with a cell phone.
In the video — which also contains audible profanity — the helpless suspect, 23-year-old John T. Willet, can be heard pleading desperately with the officers to stop beating him. Willet was arrested after a traffic stop when he bolted his car and ran from police in the April 19 altercation.
Wiillet admitted in an interview with local TV station WIVB that he was in possession of a small amount of drugs at the time, but says that he fled from the police only because he didn’t know who they were and feared at first that they might be criminals out to rob him, or worse.
“I got nervous. I didn’t know who it was, obviously. Hopefully the police, but I’m just trying to get away from it all,” he said. “I just got caught up wrong time, wrong situation, did the wrong things, and kind of messed myself up. But at the same time I didn’t deserve that.”
Police say that Willet put up a struggle when they tried to subdue him, but Willet denies that he resisted and says that after a brief foot chase, he stopped running, put up his hands and gave himself up willingly. Police say they found heroin on Willets’ person and crack cocaine in his car. But his lawyer says that Willet has stayed clear of the law for six years, and that his juvenile run-ins with police were all for minor offenses.
“I put my hands up and that’s when I got the first swing to my face. I surrendered. I stopped. I put my hands up. It was no more point to run,” he said. “The only thing I can think was just to keep telling them or asking them, or begging them to stop hitting me. My face obviously started hurting. I felt my face starting to swell up. I didn’t want to have a shut eye.”
One officer, John Cirulli, is clearly seen in the video kicking and striking Willet and has been suspended from the Buffalo force without pay. The other five officers at the scene — Dennis R. Gilbert, Brian O. Griffin, Lindsay A. Laracuente-Zgoda, Lamar M. McCulley and Nicholas A. Militello — have been placed on paid administrative leave as the investigation continues into whether the beating of John Willet was a case of excessive force.
“Ninety-nine percent of our police officers every day do the right thing. They put their lives on the line for citizens of the community. Bad actions by a few should not tarnish their badges,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. “Cameras are a good thing. People should be aware that cameras are out there, and inappropriate actions, whether on video or not, can’t be condoned, will not be tolerated, plain and simple.”
Image: WIVB TV