Police officers plead not guilty to civil rights charges

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Two Buffalo Police officers and a former officer were arraigned on federal civil rights violations, and pleaded not guilty, Monday afternoon.

The three defendants are accused of using excessive force when they arrested four teenagers back in 2009, but the entire case revolves around a BB gun the teenagers used in a drive-by shooting, and the officers are accused of turning the gun on the teenagers.

Detective Raymond Krug, Officer Joseph Wendel, and Lt. Gregory Kwiatkowski are charged with felony civil rights violations. Kwiatkowski retired three years ago. The three defendants could face prison time, if convicted.

“The felony counts are for civil rights violations, and for conspiring to violate civil rights, and those are punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, and a $250,000 fine,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Campana outside of court.

The teenagers were arrested for shooting into a crowd at near Treehaven Road in the University District, wounding two people, on May 31, 2009.

Two of the teenagers accused the arresting officers of abuse, with one of the teens getting shot twice with the BB gun. The two settled civil claims against the city back in December. All four teenagers eventually pleaded guilty to reduced charges in City Court in July 2009.

“As I understand it, the decision to settle that case was strictly made by the City of Buffalo. The officers were not consulted about that,” said Rodney Personius, the defense lawyer for Joseph Wendel.

Could that settlement affect the outcome of the civil rights case in federal court? “It won’t address the civil case at all. Our office brings criminal charges only in these matters, and that is what I am here to represent the government on,” answered Campana.

The federal indictments were announced last week, just days before the statute of limitations would have expired to charge the three, which raises a number of questions about the strength of the government’s case.

“If it was a strong case, and it happened in 2009, you would think it would have been prosecuted far earlier than it was prosecuted. So that is a big question on everyone’s mind,” added Terrence Connors of the Connors and Vilardo law firm, and represents Ray Krug.

Krug and Wendel are suspended without pay. Federal Magistrate Kenneth Schroeder released all three defendants without requiring bail.

Their civil rights trial is set to start in October.

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