Buffalo officer in video beating resigns, pleads guilty

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - John Cirulli has resigned his position as a Buffalo police officer and pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanors. The resignation was filed on Friday.

Cirulli, 31, was in federal court late Thursday afternoon where he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor civil rights violations. The father of two has been suspended following the release of a cell phone video that shows him kicking and slapping John Willet during an arrest in Riverside on April 19. The cell phone video led to a federal investigation.

In court Thursday, Cirulli admitted striking Willet on the sidewalk in handcuffs and also while in a police car. He pleaded guilty to two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law. Each count faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $100,000, of a combination of both.

Cirulli exited the courtroom with attorney Rodney O.  Personius. Cirulli made no comment but his attorney said Cirulli’s plea “was the proper thing to do” for Curilli, his family as well as other officers of the BPD. He said “public clamor about the Buffalo Police Deparment being out of control is wrong.”

Personius said that it’s an “excellent department” and this incident was an “isolated occurrence and not a daily event.” He went on to say “this was the proper thing to do to put this to rest.”

Personius said he may still challenge the government’s allegations regarding the video during the sentencing process.

Personious said he reserves the right to challenge allegations that Cirulli attempted to have the video deleted from a bystander’s cell phone. Personius said he plans to argue there was “a miscommunication of what took place in the deli” about what Cirulli was attempting to do when he confronted the bystander who videotaped the incident.

Sentencing is scheduled for September 24 at 2 p.m.

Five other officers seen by officials in the video remain on administrative leave as the investigation continues by the department’s Internal Affairs division.

The man in the center of the incident spoke to News 4 about his side of the story. John Willet, 22, was seen in the video being arrested by Buffalo Police. Willet said, “For them to put their hands on me the way they did just didn’t make sense.”

Willet says there was a lot that happened that night in Riverside, things that the cellphone video did not capture. For one, he says Cirulli kept hitting him after he initially refused to give his name. Willet says it happened while he was in the back of a patrol car while still handcuffed.

“The officers in the car, they told me, just give him my name. Don’t antagonize him cause he’s going to keep beating me. They’re going to keep hitting me. And they said the faster I comply the faster I can go down to the holding center,” Willet said.

Police say Willet bailed out of his vehicle at Philadelphia and Ontario Streets and ran. They say he struggled with officers and had to be forcibly subdued and handcuffed.

Willet insists that he did not struggle with police once they caught up with him.

“I stopped and I put my hands up and that’s when I got the first swing to my face,” he said. “I ran because of the fact that I did have some type of drugs on me.”

In fact, police say Willet was found with heroin in his pants pocket and crack cocaine inside the vehicle he was driving. Willet says he made a decision to stop running and surrender in a highly visible place.

“Let me stop running here on Ontario where somebody could possibly catch a video of me, you know. If they do try to beat me or anything versus running into a backyard where none of this would have got caught.”

Willet says at one point, after the situation cooled down, he sensed that Cirulli felt bad about what happened.

“I asked him if he could do me a favor. He said yeah. I said can you give me a cigarette. He said yeah I’ll get you a cigarette. He said why did you run. He said we were just coming to tell you to pull over. He said I’ll go to court for you. He said I’ll tell them to drop the disorderly conduct charges. I said it’s up to the DA. He said no it’s up to the arresting officers. He felt so bad for me after it was all said and done that he went at 4:00 o’clock in the morning to my girlfriend’s house to let her know the car was impounded and I was currently in jail.”

Willet said he thinks Cirulli felt bad because Willet’s eye was bleeding and his face was swollen.

“Everything was bad and he could tell I wasn’t… I’m not a bad kid. I’m 22-years-old. I’m not a bad person. I just got caught. And you know, it’s just a lesson learned. He could just sense it.”

Willet has his own legal troubles to deal with since being arrested. Willet was in city court Wednesday to plead guilty to a reduced charge of heroin possession. He could get jail or probation.

He says his focus is on getting a job once this is all over. As for Cirulli, he says the officer “knows he was wrong.”

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