Forget snow. Treatment of fired cop now shapes national image

By Rod Watson
Reposted from Buffalo News
June 24, 2020

At a recent City Hall rally against police abuse organized by clergy, former officer Cariol Horne describes her life after being fired for trying to stop a colleague she feared was choking a suspect.  (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)
At a recent City Hall rally against police abuse organized by clergy, former officer Cariol Horne describes her life after being fired for trying to stop a colleague she feared was choking a suspect. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

A Team USA junior hockey player calls the place “a ghost town” and sends the locals  into cardiac arrest.

A national meteorologist notes that it snows here and causes civic apoplexy.

And it’s a capital offense when a national hot sauce maker promotes the “wrong” dressing to eat with the city’s namesake chicken wing.

Buffalo’s insecurity and paranoia over its national image are well-known. But now it might actually do some good after Cariol Horne made the rounds of network TV and radio shows in recent days, from CNN and CBS to “The Breakfast Club,” the nationally syndicated radio show.

Her saga has left Buffalo known as the place that fired a conscientious cop for trying to save a life, while the rest of the world is marching and demanding that officers do just that when faced with a rogue colleague. “Laughingstock” does not do justice to how the city looks right now because of its treatment of the former officer.

Renewed interest in Horne comes as Mayor Byron Brown was doing his own national media tour to explain the “trip” seen round the world.

But while the administration quickly and forthrightly corrected the record and acknowledged that 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino didn’t trip – he fell and suffered a concussion after being pushed by two Buffalo cops – the city has yet to correct the injustice done to Horne.

She was fired in 2008 after trying to stop a white officer – later sentenced to four months in prison in another abuse case – she thought was choking handcuffed suspect Neal Mack, who is black, during an arrest in a dispute over mail. The firing after an arbitration hearing – she refused a short suspension for doing what was right – came within a year of Horne putting in the 20 years needed to earn a full pension. It also has left her at times destitute and forced to live in a shelter – all for doing what we wish a cop at George Floyd’s murder scene had done.

Now, thanks to her media tour, the nation has realized what Buffalo refused to for the last 12 years.

Watching video of Floyd’s death was “heartbreaking because I know he did not have to die had one of those officers stepped in and intervened,” Horne told CNN. “I lost everything – but at least Neal Mack did not lose his life.”

Not everyone in Buffalo forgot about Horne. When Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by a New York City cop in 2014, it revived memories of Horne’s case. Bishop Michael Badger of Bestheda World Harvest International Church used his pulpit and radio show to urge support for her and restoration of her pension, and he and Common Council President Darius Pridgen were among clergy who went to City Hall to urge police reform.

Two weeks ago, the Council asked state officials to again review the incident as well as the number of days Horne actually put in with the city.

For its part, the Brown administration two years ago offered Horne a job, one she says was never defined and would have required her to seek a disability determination for reasons she says also were never clear. A spokesman said Brown in 2015 – seven years after his administration pushed Horne out the door – also asked the attorney general and civil service officials to review the case and the pension issue, respectively.

Because she was out for a time on “injured on duty” status, there has been a lingering dispute over how Horne’s time with the city has been tallied. Though city lawyers in 2014 said the dispute is a matter for the state to resolve, Pridgen said he’s heard conflicting claims from various lawyers over whether the city or state is the ultimate arbiter. The Council president, who has long supported granting Horne her pension, is looking into that aspect of the case, too.

Knowing how things work in governmental chambers and with everyone claiming to want to help, it wouldn’t take much to grant a waiver or come up with another calculation of how many days Horne actually accrued – provided the political will really is there. The administration says she qualifies for a partial pension, but she deserves more than that.

Ironically, the Buffalo Police Department now has a “duty to intervene” policy, and Pridgen is pushing the city to research such laws elsewhere amid calls for a “Cariol’s Law” in Buffalo.

That action, however, comes too late for Horne. Since her firing, she has been relying on GoFundMe donations while driving off and on – tractor-trailers, school buses, Uber and Lyft – until fears of the novel coronavirus sidelined her. What would the pension mean to her?

“No more financial stress, no more being homeless, no more wondering if I can make this month’s rent,” she said in an interview.

There will be more such interviews, not just with The Buffalo News but with outlets across the country every time another incident like the one in Minneapolis occurs. Cariol Horne will be back on national TV talking about what happened here when a good cop intervened – until Buffalo takes this issue off the table.

For a city so wrapped up in its national image, granting this heroine her full pension should be a no-brainer – both for PR reasons and because having cops like her is about saving a lot more than just face.