Victim in police beating video intends to sue city

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Attorneys for John Willet, the suspect in the videotaped Riverside police beating, filed a notice of claim against the City of Buffalo Tuesday.

The notice of claim, filed by attorney Phillip Dabney, Jr., names the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Police Department, former police officer John Circulli, his partner Officer Nicholas Militello and Lt. Jeffrey Rinaldo, a supervisor.

“Once he was properly arrested, at that point, it became the officer’s duty to protect and care for the security of John from any hurt, or any injury. And I would say that the officers that night did the opposite,” Dabney said.

READ | Notice of Claim against City of Buffalo, Buffalo Police Department, Officer Cirulli, Officer Militello and Lt. Rinaldo

Willet is seeking $500,000 in damages for physical and emotional injuries due to the “excessive force” of the named officers. The notice claims that Willet’s civil rights were violated and that he was subject to humiliation and embarrassment by the video recording of the arrest.

The video shows Willet in handcuffs, face down on the ground while being kicked and slapped by police. The incident happened on April 19th at Ontario and Philadelphia Streets.

Cell phone video and a city camera captured the incident.

Dabney says Militello was Cirulli’s partner that night.”I think his participation was in concert with his partner. His participation may not have been all together the same as Cirulli but participation nonetheless,” Dabney said.

Willet’s claims also names Lt. Jeffrey Rinaldo who Dabney says was on the scene supervising that night. “It’s our position that the Lieutenant not only failed, or was negligent in his supervision but that he was complicit as well.”

While Rinaldo remains on the job, Militello is among five officers who have been on paid leave since the incident. According to police sources, the initial list of officers put on leave was based on what could be seen from the videos – the one shot by a bystander and a second video obtained from the city’s street camera. News 4 Friday was the first to obtain and air the city video.

An Internal Affairs investigation will review the conduct of all officers who responded to the April 19 incident.

The claim alleges that Willet was hit and kicked and that police used excessive force.Willet claims he suffered injuries to his head, neck and lower abdomen, which is what he told News 4 Investigates during an April 28th interview.

“The scab is off but it was a brush mark here. If you look under here you can see a mark was here. My eye was hit here and it almost was shut,” Willet said.

Willet says he ran from officers that night because he had drugs on him.

Last month he pleaded guilty to a reduced heroin possession charge and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Police say Willet was found with heroin in his pants pocket and crack cocaine inside the vehicle he was driving.

Officer John Cirulli has resigned from the Buffalo Police Department. He recently pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanor civil rights violations and will be sentenced in September.

A spokesman for the City of Buffalo said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

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