It took 15 years, homelessness, depression and PTSD, but Cariol Horne, the former Buffalo Police Department police officer who was fired for saving Neal Mack’s life in 2006, finally won her battle with her former employer.
“I got punched in the face, was not allowed to file criminal charges, fired and lost my pension. I continue to advocate against the beatings and killing of unarmed citizens by bad Police. In 2016 I wrote legislation called Cariol’s Law which protects Officers who do intervene and holds, those that don’t, accountable. George Floyd, Eric Garner, Quentin Suttles, Wardel “Meech” Davis and others needed Cariol’s Law; Duty to Intervene.”
“My life was turned upside down,” Cariol Horne said.
“I was homeless. I went through depression and PTSD from the incident. It was just horrible.”
“Cariol Horne acted to keep a white officer from using what she saw as excessive force. Fifteen years later, a judge said her firing was wrong,” Jonah E. Bromwich wrote in the New York Times.
It was a cold November day in Buffalo when Officer Cariol Horne responded to a call for a colleague in need of help. What she encountered was a white officer who appeared to be “in a rage” punching a handcuffed Black man in the face repeatedly as other officers stood by.
Officer Horne, who is Black, heard the handcuffed man say he could not breathe and saw the white officer put him in a chokehold. At that point, court documents show, she forcibly removed the white officer and began to trade blows with him.
In the altercation’s aftermath, Officer Horne was reassigned, hit with departmental charges and, eventually, fired just one year short of the 20 on the force she needed to collect her full pension. She tried, and failed, more than once to have the decision reversed as unfair.
On Tuesday, in an outcome explicitly informed by the police killing of George Floyd, a state court judge vacated an earlier ruling that affirmed her firing, essentially rewriting the end of her police career, and granting her the back pay and benefits she had previously been denied.
“My vindication comes at a 15-year cost, but what has been gained could not be measured,” Cariol Horne said.
“I never wanted another police officer to go through what I had gone through for doing the right thing.”
From Justice Dennis E. Ward‘s decision:
Quoting the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘the time is always right to do right.” The City of Buffalo has recognized the error and has acknowledged the need to undo an injustice from the past. The legal system can at the very least be the mechanism to help justice prevail, even if belatedly. 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.
It is therefore the decision of this court as follows:
- The Petitioner’s original motion to vacate the decision of this court, dated July 26, 2010 and the order and judgement thereof, dated August 4, 2010, is GRANTED.
- The findings and recommendations of the hearing officer are hereby ANNULLED.
- The termination of the Petitioner as a City of Buffalo Police Officer based upon such findings and recommendations are hereby VACATED; and,
- The Petitioner’s amended motion for a cause of action under the newly enacted City Charter provision is likewise GRANTED.
- The court fins the Petitioner would have been physically capable of performing her duties during the time period for which she is seeking relief, and the Petitioner is therefore reinstated as a police officer with the City of Buffalo nunc pro tunc, for the period of July 26, 2008 through August 4, 2010 and shall be entitled to back wages and benefits for such period.
- The Respondent City of Buffalo is directed to make an award of back pay in the proper amount, to make any required pension contributions for that period of time, and to take such other steps as are necessary to implement this Decision and Judgment.
It is so Ordered and Adjudged.
Dated April 13, 2021