Police refused to cooperate in death probe

A review of internal Buffalo police records and state law raises questions over the refusal of two officers to cooperate with the attorney general’s office as it investigated the death of Wardel Davis during an encounter with the police in February.

The two officers involved, Nicholas Parisi and Todd McAlister, refused to be interviewed by the attorney general’s office about the incident unless they were interviewed together. That’s despite a police department policy that states all employees have a “duty” to “extend their fullest cooperation” to outside agencies investigating possible officer misconduct.

A spokesperson for the attorney general declined to comment on whether prosecutors used their powers to compel individual testimony in the face of the officers’ refusal. The office has the power to subpoena witnesses, according to the executive order that established the special unit to investigate fatal encounters between unarmed civilians and police. The spokesperson emphasized that officers have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

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State investigators rejected the demand for a joint interview and instead relied on statements the officers made at the scene and recorded in other law enforcement documents.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office told The Buffalo News it is “incredibly uncommon to interview two witnesses of any kind together.”

“Joint interviews of witnesses — especially interested witnesses who are closely aligned with one another — can muddy independent recollections of key events and create an echo chamber, resulting in the two witnesses coalescing around a joint narrative, either subconsciously or purposefully,” the spokesperson said.

Two pathologists determined Davis died of an acute asthma attack triggered by his encounter with police. The attorney general’s report therefore concluded the officers were not responsible for Davis’s death.

Several dozen protesters rallied in front of police headquarters Wednesday to decry the investigation’s findings. They noted the refusal of Parisi and McAlister to submit to individual interviews and one protest leader called for their dismissal.

The report recommended that the department gain accreditation from a state-affiliated program. The City Charter requires such accreditation, but officials only began to take steps in that direction after Investigative Post reported in January on the failure.