BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Sources tell News 4 Investigates that the six officers under investigation in the alleged sidewalk beating of John Willet on April 19, are only a first step for Buffalo Police Internal Affairs.
The six officers taken off the street on Monday are only those who can be seen in the shocking video that surfaced last week and other videos obtained by police. But investigators are still taking statements to try to determine the roles played by every officer connected with the Ontario Street arrest.
The final list of who is on or off the job could change once that probe is complete, sources said.
News 4 Investigates has confirmed that these six officers have been taken off the street:
John Cirulli, accused of visibly slapping and kicking Willet. He is on unpaid leave and is the primary target of the probe.
Five others were put on paid administrative leave on Monday by Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda:
Dennis R. Gilbert
Brian O. Griffin
Lindsay A. Laracuente-Zgoda
Lamar M. McCulley
Nicholas A. Militello
News 4 has made repeated calls to the police union but so far there’s been no comment.
None of these officers are lieutenants who wear white shirts and supervise officers in the field.
In a new development, John Willet, through his attorney Phillip Dabney, Jr., claims that a lieutenant was there while he was being hit.
Dabney said Willet gave this account to Police Internal Affairs regarding the lieutenant:
“He spoke to the lieutenant while he was on the ground,” Dabney told News 4. “He said what he was saying to the others, ‘Stop, please stop hitting me.’ And it was his belief because there now was an officer in a white shirt, at a minimum, the hitting would stop.”
Arrest documents do list a lieutenant as supervising the investigation and recovering evidence. But, police sources say, he doesn’t show up on any of the videos, which is why he remains on the job.
In addition to the bystander’s video, there’s a city street surveillance video and possibly another from a nearby store.
According to a police complaint obtained by News 4, Willet possessed heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana. He’s also accused of resisting arrest following a foot chase. Police said he fought and struggled with officers and had to be “forcibly subdued and handcuffed.”
Authorities know a lieutenant joined in the arrest at some point but have yet to determine the role the officer played. Questions about the lieutenant first came up on Monday when Derenda first talked to the media about the investigation.
News 4 has also learned from police department sources that the investigation has shifted from the intense initial work by Internal Affairs to a federal investigation.
The United States Attorney Office and the FBI began looking into the case shortly after Derenda received an email copy of the video. The Erie County district attorney was also alerted and DA Frank Sedita III said his office was ready to join in the probe.
“It’s a violation of civil rights to be subjected to excessive force by someone in uniform, in this case a police officer” United States Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. told News 4 on Monday. “Now, I can’t comment whether in fact this is a violation of civil rights as we speak.”
Hochul said his office takes a “zero tolerance” when it comes to excessive force by police.
“It would completely destroy the confidence of the public if they thoughts that police officers could get away with hurting somebody, or with arresting somebody with less than probably cause.”