Police arrest Niagara Square protesters

Timing of arrests gave cops grounds to take protesters into custody rather than issuing an appearance ticket that would have kept them out of central booking facility.

Buffalo Police today arrested 13 protesters who had been occupying Niagara Square for a week and a half. 

The order to clear the square came directly from Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood, police spokesman Captain Jeff Rinaldo told Investigative Post. The arrests were made about 1 a.m. Wednesday, just hours before the department put in place a new policy to issue appearance tickets for low-level offenses rather than taking people into custody. 

Juan Santos, a protester who was arrested, spoke with Investigative Post, and said they were detained and held in Central Booking for nearly five hours before being issued appearance tickets and being released. They will be arraigned at a later date.

“The fact that police arrested peaceful protesters last night for charges they should have been given an on-site appearance ticket for today is outrageous,” said Miles Gresham, an attorney with the Legal Aid Bureau who is part of the Free the People coalition, a group which has participated in reform negotiations with Mayor Byron Brown. 

“It’s so ironic that they decided to take us all into custody,” said Santos, the protestor from Buffalo. 

The protesters have been camping out in the square in downtown Buffalo since June 12. They had vowed to remain there until there are changes to police practices. The occupy movement is an off-shoot of the rallies held in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Protesters in the square in front of City Hall were calling for the state attorney general to reopen Wardel “Meech” Davis’s case and to release Deyanna Davis from the Holding center. Meech Davis died in 2017 after an altercation with Buffalo Police. Deyanna Davis, a 31-year-old mother of four, remains in custody, facing state and federal charges after being arrested on charges she drove her SUV through a police line during a protest on Bailey Avenue earlier this month, injuring three officers. 

Rinaldo, explaining the decision to take the protesters into custody, said the software program police are using to issue appearance tickets in the field was not functional in police patrol cars until the start of the day shift today. He said there is no concern that the policy was violated given the software wasn’t available at the time and those arrested were “trespassing” at the park and needed to be removed. 

According to the mayor’s executive order, obstruction of governmental administration, being in a park after 10 p.m. and sleeping in the park – the charges the protesters were arrested on – are not listed as crimes that police should arrest and transport people to Central Booking to process. The charges carry a penalty of up to one year in prison.   

“The mayor issued this executive order in good faith, and we expect Commissioner Lockwood and rank and file police officers to follow the rules. If they don’t, we will use every lawful tactic necessary to hold them accountable,” Gresham said.

Despite their presence in the square for nearly two weeks, the arrests were made now because police received “numerous complaints … from residents, visitors, public and private sector employees, union officials and other members of the public,” according to a press release from Mike DeGeorge, spokesman for Mayor Byron Brown. 

Rinaldo said protesters were given multiple opportunities Tuesday during the day and evening to leave. When they refused, protesters said some 40 officers surrounded and arrested them without further warning.

The city’s public works crew removed the tents as well as other items, took down signs, threw out garbage and cleaned graffiti. 

The protesters vow to return to the square. 

“I am not discouraged; we’re not going anywhere,” Santos said. “We will stop when there’s real change instead of feeding us garbage like banning chokeholds, which weren’t allowed, and telling us they won’t detain us then doing it.” 

Protesters have had a daily presence in Buffalo since May 30. A variety of groups ranging from social justice organizers to nurses and teachers have marched through the streets of the city, shouting “Black Lives Matter” and demanding changes in police tactics and reform to policies and practices. 

In response, the mayor has begun phasing in reforms to department policies. Some have praised the moves, others criticized them as insufficient.