BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo police said they will deal internally with an incident involving an officer who engaged in a war of words with a resident who was upset over the use of force on her boyfriend.
On April 12 in the mid-afternoon Saleasha Oryszak got into an argument with Thomas Sanchez, her boyfriend, while they both sat in their car on Chauncey Street. A neighbor called 911.
Policed arrived and both Oryszak and Sanchez stayed in the vehicle. Sanchez recorded on his cell phone Officer William T. Hoffstetter using foul language in his attempt to get them to exit.
“One of you want to get out of the ******* car? So, eventually, this window is going to get broken,” Hoffstetter says.
“You ain’t going to break no ******* window,” Sanchez is heard telling the officer.
Oryszak, who is pregnant, calls her mother with her cell phone, screaming “they are trying to take me to jail because G and I are arguing, can you come outside!”
After 30 seconds, Oryszak exits the car, while other officers drag Sanchez to the ground. At this point, her mother walked over with a cell phone and started recording.
Five officers are seen on top of Sanchez as they try to handcuff him. Sanchez does not appear to be aggressively resisting, but the officer still had trouble cuffing both hands. As a result, the unidentified officer holding the handcuffs throws a series of violent blows to the back of Sanchez’s shoulder by his head.
Once Sanchez is handcuffed, all five officers rise and take him to a police cruiser.
But the encounter didn’t end once Sanchez was cuffed.
Hoffstetter continued to argue with Oryszak and Cheryl Carrion, her mother, escalating the situation into a verbal chess match filled with expletives.
“You know what else is on ******* recording? Your neighbors watching you ******* beating him up in this ******* car!” Hoffstetter said.
“That’s why you got out of the car! That’s why we’re getting him out of the car! You refused! He refused and he ended up on the ******* ground!”
Videos of police using force and interacting with residents are becoming more common with the advent of cell phones. On the surface none of these videos look good for police or the suspects.
In Buffalo, a city in which the police department prides itself on community policing, errors in judgment did occur this afternoon from all sides, said former law enforcement officers who watched the video.
But in this case, Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo described the use of force by police as “textbook.”
“A citizen decides the amount of force used against them by the police,” Rinaldo said. “If you comply, there’s no force. If you resist, there’s force to overcome that resistance.”
Hoffstetter’s behavior, on the other hand, did concern Rinaldo and two other former law enforcement officials who viewed the video to comment for this story.
“In this case, after reviewing it, the commissioner feels his conduct wasn’t necessarily the most professional,” Rinaldo said. “So, we will review this internally and it will be handled internally.”
Regardless, Oryszak and Carrion said they’ve lost faith in the police department based on how officers handled this incident.
“The officer that was being belligerent, I could see him getting suspended but the officers that beat him, they should all get fired,” Carrion said.
“Because that was uncalled for, unsafe.”
Paul McCauley, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a former police officer, said if a suspect is not handcuffed it is “perfectly acceptable” for officers to use force, including punches, to gain compliance.
“To the lay person, that looks like excessive force,” McCauley said about the video of police taking down Sanchez. “Look at those five big cops on that one guy, and that is exactly the scenario that you want to use in many cases to prevent harm.”
The Buffalo Police Department’s use of force policy obtained by News 4 Investigates through a Freedom of Information law request states that officers are to use “only that amount of physical force that is reasonably necessary to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective, including protecting a person from the imminent use of physical force, effecting an arrest or preventing an escape from custody” and it should only be used “when no other viable option is available.”
Both Oryszak and Sanchez initially failed to comply with the order to exit the car.
Sanchez, who also goes by the name Thomas Carrasquillo, is no stranger to police. Not only does he have a criminal record, but he also won a $10,000 settlement against the city in 2014 for a use of force complaint.
Once they both exited the car, Sanchez passively resisted by telling the officers not to touch him.
Officers ordered him to turn around and put his hands on the vehicle, but Sanchez continued to record with his phone. Officers then took him to the ground.
“You saw every officer that was on the suspect holding down a different body part,” said Rinaldo. “Nobody other than one person was delivering any type of impact. Just the officer that had the handcuffs was attempting to get him handcuffed, so I applaud their use of force.”
David Rivera, a city councilman and former police officer who is chairman of the Police Oversight Committee, said he understood why the use of force was necessary, but he still found the video disturbing.
“I’m disturbed by a number of things,” Rivera said.
“I’m disturbed by the long conversations and some of the words that were used, I’m disturbed by the conduct of the people that were there involved in the domestic dispute, I’m bothered by all of the whole thing. I would look at this video and I would make recommendations … perhaps we need to better train in de-escalating situations like this.”
McCauley also believes that Officer Hoffstetter’s behavior that afternoon ran “contrary to accepted police practices.”
“And we know that profanity typically or often leads to the escalation of force and tensions among and between people,” McCauley said.
“I noticed on the one police vehicle it had the statement of community policing and community policing basically involves, among other things, the reduction of tensions and the increase of communications among and between people.”
Rinaldo acknowledged that the department “can’t tolerate those kinds of mistakes.”
“Everybody is entitled to making mistakes in any profession as long as your mistake doesn’t injury somebody,” he said.
“And I think in this case, with this officer, it’s a matter of having a conversation and a bit of training recognizing that things could have been handled better.”
Sanchez was charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice in the second degree. His next court date is Sept. 19, when a judge could decide on a motion to dismiss the charges.