Supreme Court reinstates pension of fired police veteran

April 22, 2021

Cariol Horne

In an extraordinary decision by the Supreme Court for the State of New York, the court reversed its own previous ruling and ordered that Cariol Horne received a full pension, back pay and benefits in a decision announced on April 13. Horne, a mother of five and a 19-year veteran of the Buffalo Police Department, was fired and denied a pension after she intervened to prevent her partner from applying a “chokehold” on a handcuffed suspect in 2006.

In the written decision annulling her firing just short of being vested for a full pension, the Hon. Dennis E. Ward explained that his ruling was swayed in part by death in custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., in May 2020, as reported by The Buffalo News.

“One of the issues in all of these cases is the role of other officers at the scene and particularly their complicity in failing to intervene to save the life of a person to whom such unreasonable physical force is being applied,” the judge wrote.

The ruling followed less than six months after “Cariol’s Law” was signed into law by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. The law states that officers who reasonably believe a colleague is using excessive force have a duty to step in and stop it. Failure to intervene can lead to criminal charges. When asked about Horne’s case during a recent press conference Mayor Brown said the reversal meant that “a different telling of history is happening from what happened at that time,” as reported by the Associated Press.

Cariol Horne during her service as a Buffalo Police officer

Horne was fired in 2008 after an arbitration process determined she had put the lives of the officers at the scene in danger. She also lost all her appeals. Horne’s case recently received attention from the Common Council in Buffalo which in addition to passing Cariol’s Law also passed a resolution in early April asking Letitia James, the attorney general for New York, to review the previous court decision upholding Horne’s firing and denial of pension. A spokeswoman told the Associated Press the office of the attorney general would not be commenting at this time. Horne said a previous attorney general declined to review the case, saying the office lacked jurisdiction.

In the years since her firing, Horne suffered further for intervening, a decision she believes saved the life of the suspect, who is Black. After her firing, Horne, who is also Black, became an activist against police brutality, championing Cariol’s Law. After her firing, Horne had difficulty finding another job and briefly became homeless last year after being evicted from city-owned housing in Buffalo.

After the incident in 2006, Gregory Kwiatkowski, who is white, won a defamation lawsuit against Horne. Kwiatkowski was promoted to lieutenant about two years later, but wound up being fired and serving four months in prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to deprivation of civil rights for using excessive force against four Black teenagers he arrested on suspicion of discharging a pellet gun. Prosecutors charged Kwiatkowski with slamming the teenager’s heads into a vehicle while yelling obscenities at them.

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