A twice-suspended Buffalo police officer is under investigation by Internal Affairs after he was caught on camera Thursday afternoon punching a man on Elmwood Avenue.
The officer, Richard Hy, was off-duty at the time and dressed in camouflage. He’s white, the man he punched was black, someone described by police and witnesses as displaying mental distress and violent behavior.
The video was posted to Facebook and later deleted. The poster, Abu Pablo, wrote: “Person in military fatigues assaults mentally deranged man while I sip coffee.”
Another witness told Investigative Post the video does not tell the full story.
“This wasn’t a race thing,” said Joseph Chayban, owner of Chayban’s Tailoring and Dry Cleaning. “Right away everyone made it about race, but really it’s about mental health issues.”
Earlier in the day, police were called to Elmwood, near Utica Street, to respond to a wellness check on the man seen in the video. He was yelling and spitting on people and swinging a skateboard at them, according to Chayban.
Police sources told Investigative Post the man did not reach the threshold that enabled them to take him into custody for evaluation at the Erie County Medical Center, so officers left.
Sources and witnesses said that hours later, as the off-duty officer was running an errand on Elmwood Avenue, the man spit on Hy’s vehicle, hit his truck’s door with the skateboard, and yelled about the United States government. According to Chayban, the shop owner, the man swung a skateboard at Hy right before the officer punched him.
“He didn’t continue to pound him to the ground; he apprehended him and held him there,” Chayban said. “I think it’s justifiable [to respond like that] if it’s a cop or me.”
Hy was suspended twice in 2016.
In 2016, he was charged in West Seneca with harassment and choking. He was accused of headbutting a teen-ager while off-duty. He was fined, sentenced to 50 hours of community service, and ordered to stay away from the victim. The Buffalo police department suspended him because of the incident.
He was later suspended without pay for 22 days after he posted “Angry Cops” videos on social media, spoofs that involved cocaine use, police shootings and police interrogation techniques. The posts were viewed more than six million times before being deleted.
Hy joined the police force in 2012 and earned $99,582 last fiscal year. He is currently assigned to D District, which covers the Riverside-Block Rock area. He was a member of the Emergency Response Team until its members resigned en masse in June after two of its members were suspended and charged with felony assault involving the injury to Martin Gugino during a protest in front of City Hall.
Hy remains on the job as Internal Affairs conducts its investigation. Among the issues: whether Hy’s use of force appropriate under department’s policy.