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Ex-Buffalo Cop Who Pulled Officer Off Suspect Wins Pension

Kirkland is mentioned in Law360 regarding the Firm's role in a case that reinstated the pension of Cariol Horne, a former police officer who was fired for stopping a colleague's chokehold on a handcuffed man in 2006.

A former Buffalo police officer who was fired in 2008 for intervening when a fellow cop held a suspect in a chokehold will receive her full pension after a New York state judge struck down a decade-old ruling that cost her her job, in a decision that name-checked George Floyd and Eric Garner.

Cariol Horne, a veteran of the Buffalo Police Department, was a year short of collecting her full pension when she lost her job for pulling a colleague off a suspect who was struggling for air.

Tuesday's ruling by Judge Dennis Ward of New York Supreme Court in Erie County sided with Horne 15 years after the incident, reversing her firing and retroactively reinstating her for a time between 2008 and 2010. The decision awarded her back pay and benefits and put her over the 20-year mark she needed to collect her pension.

The ruling comes amid the Minneapolis trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer accused of murdering Floyd by putting him in a chokehold.

Horne had explicitly cited Floyd's death last fall when she sued to vacate the state court's 2010 ruling that upheld her firing. She said she did what three other officers present at Floyd's death would not: took action. The other officers in the Chauvin case were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

"The legal system can at the very least be the mechanism to help justice prevail, even if belatedly," Judge Ward said in Tuesday's ruling. "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."

Garner died in 2014 after New York City police put him in a chokehold while arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes.

In November 2006, Horne had responded to a call from a colleague who needed aid and found fellow officer Gregory Kwiatkowski "in a rage," struggling with a handcuffed suspect, according to court filings.

Kwiatkowski allegedly had the suspect in a "bear hug headlock" and pulled him into a 20-second chokehold. The suspect said he couldn't breathe — a plea that later became a rallying cry for protesters in the wake of Floyd's death.

Horne allegedly grabbed Kwiatkowski's collar and pulled him off the suspect. But as a result, she had disciplinary charges filed against her starting in 2007 and was fired in February 2008.

Kwiatkowski, meanwhile, was promoted and won a $65,000 defamation suit against Horne. But he ultimately retired from the Police Department amid a disciplinary investigation.

Kwiatkowski was later sentenced to four months in prison after he pled guilty to using excessive force in a different arrest, of four Black teenagers. Attorneys for Kwiatkowski did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The Buffalo Police Department implemented a duty-to-intervene policy in 2019. Less than a month after Horne filed her petition, Buffalo's Common Council enacted a similar measure known as Cariol's Law.

The new law also created a cause of action with a 20-year statute of limitations for officers fired for reporting or intervening to stop use of excessive force, giving Horne's case additional backing.

"The time is always right to do right," Judge Ward said, paraphrasing a 1965 remark by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "The city of Buffalo has recognized the error and has acknowledged the need to undo an injustice from the past."

W. Neil Eggleston, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP who represents Horne and served as White House counsel to former President Barack Obama, told Law360 Wednesday that Floyd and Garner's deaths "changed the atmosphere" around the issues in his client's case.

If the bystanders in Chauvin's case had stepped in as Horne had with Kwiatkowski, Floyd would be alive and Chauvin wouldn't be facing murder charges, Eggleston said. Horne's intervention was an act of support for her fellow officer, he added.

"She had his back," Eggleston said.  

The Buffalo Common Council president and a spokesperson for the Buffalo Police Department did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The advocacy group Strategies for Justice, which also represents Horne, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Horne is represented by William Savino of Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP, W. Neil Eggleston of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Intisar Rabb of Intisar Rabb Law and Ronald Sullivan Jr. of Ronald Sullivan Law PLLC.

Buffalo is represented by in-house attorneys Timothy Ball and David Lee.

The case is Horne v. City of Buffalo et al., case number 010228-2008, in the New York Supreme Court for the County of Erie.