Amid nationwide protests over police abuse, we speak with Cariol Horne, the Buffalo police officer whom a New York court has just vindicated for stopping a fellow cop from choking a handcuffed Black man during an arrest. In 2006, Horne, who is Black, saw a white officer repeatedly punching the man in the face before putting him in a chokehold. After Horne heard the man say “I can’t breathe,” she intervened by grabbing the officer’s arm. Horne was sanctioned by the Buffalo Police Department, reassigned, then fired in 2008, just months before she was eligible to receive her full pension. A new ruling makes her eligible for back pay and pension benefits. Horne says she is now calling on state governments and Congress to follow the lead of Buffalo, which passed Cariol’s Law, legislation that makes it the duty of officers to intervene in cases of brutality. “I knew that I did the right thing,” Horne says. We also speak with Intisar Rabb, a Harvard Law professor who is one of three attorneys representing Horne. Cariol’s Law “should spread far and wide” to other cities and states, Rabb says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
A New York court has vindicated a former Buffalo police officer who was fired for stopping a fellow cop from choking a handcuffed Black man during an arrest 15 years ago. In 2006, Cariol Horne, who is Black, saw a white officer repeatedly punching the man in the face before putting him in a chokehold. After Horne heard the man say, “I can’t breathe,” she intervened, grabbing the officer’s arm. After the incident, Horne was sanctioned by the Buffalo Police Department, reassigned, then fired in 2008, just months before she was eligible to receive her full pension.
Last week, a New York court ruled, making her eligible for back pay and pension benefits. New York state Supreme Court Judge Dennis Ward cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his ruling, writing, “The time is always right to do right.” Ward also wrote, “Recent events in the national news, including the death last year in the City of Minneapolis of George Floyd, who died from unreasonable physical force being applied for over nine minutes, have sparked national outrage over the use of this practice,” unquote. The judge continued, “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. … To her credit, Officer Horne did not merely stand by, but instead sought to intervene, despite the penalty she ultimately paid for doing so,” the court said.
The officer Horne intervened against, Gregory Kwiatkowski, would later be sentenced to a four-month term in a federal prison for a 2009 incident in which he assaulted four African American teenagers in handcuffs. The man Cariol Horne saved from Kwiatkowski’s chokehold, Neal Mack, credits her with saving his life.
Meanwhile, Cariol Horne has proposed Cariol’s Law, which would make it the duty of enforcement officers to intervene in cases of brutality. It would protect officers who intervene, and punish officers who cover up abuses or falsify reports. Buffalo’s City Council voted last fall to adopt the legislation, and Horne is calling on state governments and Congress to follow their lead.
For more, we go to Buffalo to speak with Cariol Horne. Also with us is Intisar Rabb, a Harvard Law School professor who’s one of the three attorneys representing Horne.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Cariol Horne, congratulations on winning this victory in court. Take us back to 2006. Where were you when you saw this white officer attacking this handcuffed Black man?
CARIOL HORNE: I went to the home of Neal Mack at 707 Walden Avenue. And when I went inside of the house, that’s when Neal Mack was handcuffed and being punched in the face. So, once we got Neal Mack out of the house and went outside, that is when Gregory Kwiatkowski started choking him. And that’s when I released the chokehold, and then he punched me in the face.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you do?
CARIOL HORNE: Well, I got ready to defend myself, but two officers came between us, and two officers pulled me back. So, then I went to the station house, reported it to the chief. And then an internal investigation started, and I became the target.
AMY GOODMAN: And you ultimately were fired.
CARIOL HORNE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How did that affect your life, Cariol Horne? And why is this vindication coming 15 years later?
CARIOL HORNE: It affected my life in a lot of ways, financially, emotionally, physically. You know, I had five children — I mean, I have five children, but they were younger then. And I knew that I did the right thing, so I couldn’t understand why they would not do the right thing, meaning the city police department.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were fired. The white cop who was assaulting this Black man wasn’t fired. He, the handcuffed man, says you saved his life. And then the white cop ends up going to jail for assaulting four Black teens?
CARIOL HORNE: He went to jail for exactly what I had said he did, using unnecessary, unlawful force.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Intisar Rabb into the conversation. How did you get involved with this case? You weren’t Cariol Horne’s original lawyer.
INSITAR RABB: No, I got a call in summer of this past year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, from Rami Nashashibi, who is the director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, an organization in Chicago. He’s the author, as you mentioned, or the songwriter of the song for — “Mama Please,” for Cariol Horne. So he called, telling me about the facts of her case, that she had done the right thing, she saved a man — Neal Mack is the George Floyd who lived — but she suffered the consequences of doing something right as if she had done something wrong. She was fired. She needs vindication. And I thought, “Absolutely, she does.”
Very soon after that, Ron Sullivan, Neil Eggleston, we all joined in, took the case immediately and thought that this has to be something where, even if the law says on paper that it’s impossible, we’re not going to take no for an answer, and we’re going to do everything that we can to help bring her justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Rabb, and Attorney Rabb, why did this case affect you so deeply?
INSITAR RABB: This case really affected me in two ways. I think it comes — the case itself, our notice of it, and the handing down of the judgment comes in against a backdrop of a widespread epidemic of violence, police excessive use of force, that has to be curbed, I think, from all sides. The law has to be used as a tool for justice. So I think it’s the backdrop of what was and the context of what is today that really demanded that we get involved in Cariol’s case and ensure that her behavior is lauded and that she becomes an example for other police officers, that this courageous judge becomes an example for other courts to correct past wrongs.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of Cariol’s Law?
INSITAR RABB: I think the law is one that should spread far and wide, so that it will both create a duty to intervene for police officers against fellow officers who are using excessive force unlawfully, as we see happens way too often — this week alone. And I think that one of the provisions of the law is that it creates a retroactive cause of action. So, when incidents happen — if an incident happened 20 years prior, a person like Cariol Horne, who suffered the consequences, bad consequences, of doing the right thing, can still get justice.
So, I think this is — both the law and the case can be exemplary models for other cities and states. There is a saying: “Save a life, it’s as if you’ve saved all of mankind.” The law and the police officers can help be in that position of saving all mankind instead of taking life, in the way that Cariol Horne did in saving a life.
AMY GOODMAN: But this case does not mean that Cariol Horne gets compensated for the emotional damage that was done to her, being stripped of her job, losing her pension. This is 15 years later. Does she get reparations for that?
INSITAR RABB: We hope that she will. We took this case as a first step. The law moves slowly. But the first step toward her getting compensation or damages of that sort would be at least to clear her name, clear out the wrongful termination for her actions. And I think she may well go on to determine next steps. Right now we were focused on getting justice for Cariol Horne in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Cariol Horne, has this changed your view of police, both now this vindication and also what happened then? We have a photograph of you standing with Martin Gugino, who people might remember, the elder man, the big peace activist in Buffalo, who was pushed down by police officers. They cracked his skull.
CARIOL HORNE: What’s your question?
AMY GOODMAN: Cariol, I was just asking you: Does this change your view of the police department and of police, in general, what their role is, and what you feel should be the direction of police reform?
CARIOL HORNE: No, it doesn’t change my view of policing, because there’s still a lot of work to be done. When you hear stories of Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, and even Caron Nazario, this is what people have been talking about forever. There needs to be an international law. So, I mean, Cariol’s Law is great that it’s been passed in Buffalo. It still needs to be amended to include a national registry, because these officers who are involved in these cases should not be able to leave one department and go to another one so that they can continue to do the same thing. And then, the system — I think that, you know, what I did was right, and I think that the judge was awesome in his decision, and that that’s a start. So, if you’re changing the system from within, that’s a start.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cariol Horne, I want to thank you so much for being with us, and both congratulating you on your actions and for winning this case, as the judge cited Dr. Martin Luther King. Cariol Horne, the Buffalo, New York, police officer fired for stopping a fellow cop from choking a handcuffed man during an arrest, sanctioned by the Buffalo Police Department, ultimately fired, just months before she was eligible to receive her full pension. Last week, a New York court vindicated her, making her eligible for back pay and pension benefits. And Intisar Rabb, attorney and Harvard Law professor, thanks so much.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is streaming the closing arguments of the Derek Chauvin case, starting at 10 a.m. Eastern today.
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