Police misconduct voted top story of ’17

Readers have voted Daniela Porat’s story about misconduct by Buffalo police as Investigative Post’s best story of 2017.

Buffalo police who cross the line, published and broadcast Sept. 20, documented how the department’s Strike Force and Housing Unit conduct illegal searches and sometimes submit dubious testimony. Defense attorneys described some officers as “vigilantes” with a “cowboy mentality.”

Reported Porat:

“I think they have a complete disregard for the Constitution of the United States, and most importantly, the Fourth Amendment,” said Michael Stachowski, a Buffalo defense attorney. “They just seem to roust kids in the street, chase people, and hope they find contraband.”

Investigative Post reviewed ten criminal court cases involving Strike Force and the Housing Unit in which judges tossed out evidence seized by officers on the grounds police had no reasonable justification to conduct the searches. In two of those instances, judges raised questions about the testimony of officers because of conflicting video evidence or its sheer implausibility.

While these cases represent only a fraction of arrests made by these units, defense attorneys said these incidents illustrate a wider pattern of misconduct by a group of Strike Force and Housing Unit officers.

“I call it stalk and frisk,” said James Auricchio, a former state and federal prosecutor and the head of the criminal division of the Assigned Counsel, which provides legal representation to indigent defendants in Erie County.

Police conduct is a growing concern in the city in part because of the deaths last year of a black man in February and a Hispanic man in May during encounters with officers. Porat previously reported on the department’s failure to train officers in de-escalation tactics, hold accountable officers accused of misconduct, and obtain accreditation required by the City Charter.

Porat, 28, is a graduate of McGill University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She joined Investigative Post in August 2016 after a stint with The New York Times.

Her story edged out a report by Charlotte Keith on the 43North small business development program that has seen most out-of-town firms awarded state funding leave the Buffalo area after just one year.

The third-highest vote getting was a piece by Dan Telvock on the threat pollution posed to an East Side neighborhood and the nearby Scajaquada Creek.

Telvock won the vote for top story the four previous years for his coverage of lead poisoning in Buffalo’s inner-city (2016); the checkered history of Greenleaf and Co. (2015); pollution choking Scajaquada Creek (2014); and the danger posed by pollution at Gallagher Beach (2013).

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Investigative Post is a nonprofit investigative reporting center based in Buffalo. It produces and distributes its work in partnership with WGRZ TV, the NBC affiliate for Buffalo; WBFO, Buffalo’s NPR News Station; The Capitol Pressroom, heard on 20 public radio stations around the state; and The Public, WNY’s alternative newsweekly.