False arrest prompts $1.1 million lawsuit against NFTA

Posted by Leslie Pickering on

Re-posted from: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/buffalo/false-arrest-prompts-11-million-lawsuit-against-nfta-20131220

By Phil Fairbanks, The Buffalo News, December 20, 2013


Armed with a court decision lambasting his false arrest, antiwar activist Nate Buckley is taking the offensive.

Buckley, in a civil lawsuit, accuses the NFTA and two of its police officers of assault, false arrest and malicious prosecution stemming from his involvement in a 2011 protest outside one of M&T Bank’s downtown offices.

He is seeking $1.1 million in damages.

“This was an attack on me, both legally and physically,” Buckley said. “And they’ve taken no responsibility for what they’ve done.”

Buckley, who also is suing M&T and others, makes several references to City Judge Joseph A. Fiorella’s decision to dismiss the charges against him.

Fiorella, in a ruling last year, criticized the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officers who arrested Buckley, describing their actions as “improper” and “repugnant to this court’s sense of justice.”

The judge also referred to the “evidence of guilt” against Buckley, and said, “This court found none.”

“The defendant’s goal that day was to exercise his First Amendment right to free speech,” Fiorella said. “He had committed no crime.”

In his civil suit, Buckley accuses the NFTA, M&T and seven other defendants, including Officers Richard Russo and Adam Brodsky, of causing “false and malicious criminal charges” to be filed against him. He also accuses Russo and Brodsky of striking him, hitting him with a baton, pushing his head into a wall and ultimately using pepper spray or mace against him.

The officers also spoke of shooting Buckley in the back of the head if the protest got out of control, the suit claims.

“They can’t trample on the constitutional rights of residents with impunity,” Michael Kuzma, one of Buckley’s lawyers, said of the NFTA and its officers.

After Fiorella’s ruling, Buckley told The Buffalo News that it was Brodsky, not Russo, who did most of the harm.

“Russo escalated things. But Russo just grabbed me,” he said last year. “Brodsky did the tackling, clubbing and macing.”

Buckley’s arrest at the anti-war rally outside M&T’s office at Main and Chippewa streets was caught on video and widely viewed on YouTube. It shows Buckley cooperating with the officers when one of them grabs his pepper spray or mace and sprays Buckley in the face.

Fiorella referred to a separate video, this one from M&T, in his decision dismissing the charges against Buckley. He was facing misdemeanor charges of trespassing, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.

“The bank’s surveillance video shows that 9the NFTA officer) followed the defendant onto the public sidewalk, grabbed the defendant, and when he struggled, (the officer) hit the defendant with his night stick,” the judge wrote. “Even though the defendant had been subdued against the wall and had stopped struggling, (the officer) pepper sprayed the defendant in the face.”

James Ostrowski, one of Buckley’s lawyers, said the judge’s strongly-worded opinion is an important element of their case.

“I thought it was a very courageous ruling,” Ostrowski said. “The judge clearly stated there was no evidence of guilt.”

The NFTA and M&T, citing their unfamiliarity with the details of the lawsuit, declined to comment Wednesday.

Buffalo attorney Daire Brian Irwin is working with Ostrowski and Kuzma on the case.