A Buffalo man has accused city police officers of retaliating against him with a bogus felony charge as he tried to file a complaint with the internal affairs division.
Bruce McNeil last week filed a federal lawsuit that accuses Buffalo Police officers of charging him with possession of crack cocaine on Memorial Day 2019 as he tried to file complaints with the police department’s Internal Affairs division against officers John M. Davidson and Patrick Garry.
“We believe that Mr. McNeil was set up by the police here,” said Anthony Rupp, McNeil’s attorney.
“He tried to lodge two complaints against the police department for C-District police officers for illegal search and seizure and they didn’t like that and the next thing he knew, even though his vehicle has been searched thoroughly and his person was searched thoroughly, and he was told he could go, the next thing he knew he was being charged with felony possession of crack cocaine.”
McNeil was acquitted after a bench trial in December 2019.
In addition, McNeil’s complaint accuses the Erie County District Attorney’s Office of moving forward with the case despite having knowledge that the “the charges brought by Officers Davidson and Garry were false, and that the Defendants planted the crack cocaine evidence to charge Mr. McNeil with a crime he did not commit…”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn declined an interview request because the criminal file is sealed, but he did deny the allegations made in the complaint.
Both the city and police department did not respond to inquiries from News 4 Investigates.
The complaint states that on Memorial Day 2019, McNeil was up early to grab a coffee and newspaper at a store on Broadway when the two officers pulled him over.
McNeil says he asked why he was pulled over, but the officers never answered.
McNeil handed over his license and the officers returned to the patrol car. When they walked back to McNeil’s car, they asked him to exit.
McNeil said he asked why and alleges one of the officers responded that they “just needed to check him.”
McNeil exited, was handcuffed, searched and placed in the back of the police cruiser.
McNeil said he was asked if he had anything in the car. He said he told them there might be ashes from marijuana in the ashtray.
However, the police report alleges that McNeil told them that inside his vehicle was a blunt, which is marijuana rolled in a cigar wrapper. McNeil denies that he told officer he had a blunt.
Both officers searched his car, found nothing, and told McNeil he was free to go.
When McNeil returned to his car, he noticed there was damage to his car, including the hood. He became upset and called 9-1-1 to report what he deemed to be an unlawful stop.
McNeil said the dispatcher told him he needed to head over to the C-District station to file a complaint with the internal affairs division.
The civil complaint states that McNeil drove to the station, where he described the damage to his vehicle to Lt. Patrick Boice.
The complaint states that Boice threatened to have him charged with marijuana possession and jailed if he did not leave.
McNeil said he was stunned. How can he be charged when no drugs were found, McNeil said he asked the lieutenant.
McNeil left the police station and told his mother about the incident. She got upset and had McNeil return to the police station with her to file the complaint.
At about 6:10 a.m. both McNeil and his mother met Lt. Jenny Velez about filing the complaint.
The civil lawsuit alleges that Velez reminded McNeil about the warning Boice allegedly gave him the first time he tried to file the complaint.
Meanwhile, in a nearby room, several officers had gathered, including both Garry and Davidson, according to the complaint. McNeil’s attorney accuses the officers of conspiring to have McNeil arrested.
The lawsuit states that Davidson emerged from the back room and told Velez that they had found crack cocaine in the back of their patrol vehicle.
Velez then informed McNeil that he was charged with felony possession of crack cocaine. She accused him of leaving the crack cocaine in the back of the two officers’ police car.
McNeil, again, stood there stunned, he said. The complaint states Velez told him, “it’s too late, you should have left.”
“I said how can I be arrested for drugs if there are no drugs?” McNeil said in an interview with News 4.
“And that’s when I was arrested by [Velez] and two other officers,” he said.
“They took me in the back and made up charges that had me going back and forth to court for eight months it seemed like.”
The police report states that the crack cocaine was found in the backseat of their cop car near where McNeil had sat.
Rupp, McNeil’s attorney, described the officers’ version as “ridiculous and outrageous.”
“Before he was handcuffed and put in the back of the police car he was patted down,” Rupp said.
“He was given a search, so if he had the cocaine on him at that time they did not find a bag of cocaine. Somehow, they claim that while he was in the squad car he managed to get the cocaine out of his person that had already been searched and leave it there.”
McNeil hired an attorney to fight the charge but said the District Attorney’s Office wanted him to accept a plea deal. McNeil, who has a criminal record from his early 20s, had not been in any legal trouble in almost two decades.
“Every time we would go to court they would bring plea deals,” McNeil said.
“They would keep moving forward as if I am guilty of being in possession of something that I wasn’t and I pleaded with the judge, I pleaded with the [assistant] district attorney, just DNA test it, fingerprint it, and the [assistant] district attorney said they’re not paying for it.”
After a bench trial, the judge acquitted McNeil in December 2019. McNeil eventually did file a complaint with internal affairs about the Memorial Day 2019 stop.
McNeil said there were “too many holes” in the case that should have raised red flags with the District Attorney’s Office, “instead of just moving forward with charges and trying to get convictions.”
But McNeil’s run-ins with Buffalo police did not end there.
On April 6, McNeil and a friend were driving on Broadway when they passed a police car. The police car, driven by Garry, turned around, drove off the median and followed McNeil’s car, according to the complaint.
McNeil said he pulled over at a gas station hoping that the surveillance camera would capture the encounter. He also told his passenger to record the encounter with a cell phone, which he did.
News 4 Investigates obtained the video recording, which shows Garry at McNeil’s window.
“Bruce what’s happening, I didn’t know that was you,” Garry said.
Garry asks for McNeil’s license and says, “whatever happened to that drug case?”
“You know what happened to that drug case,” McNeil said.
Garry cracks a smile and says, “They didn’t tell me, man.”
“They don’t have to tell you because you know that it wasn’t there, so you know what happened to the case,” McNeil tells him. “Yeah, it just cost me twenty-five-hundred, that’s all.”
Garry responds: “You didn’t want to take that plea?”
“You waited on me to take that plea,” McNeil said.
“I’m not taking no plea for something I didn’t do, that ain’t mine. Why would I do that? That makes no sense.”
Garry asks whether McNeil was convicted or acquitted, and McNeil wanted the small talk to end, so he reminds the officer, “are we doing this, running my plates?”
“All right, I was trying to be friendly with ya but I’ll run it,” Garry said.
Garry walks back to his police car while McNeil has a conversation with his friend, saying that Garry and his partner “planted drugs on me.”
“So that’s what they are going to do, harass me when they see me? I am glad you are getting this stuff,” he said to his friend who recorded the encounter with his phone.
Garry returns and asks McNeil, “What am I going to find if I search this car?”
“Nothing” McNeil said.
“I know you got some weed in here,” Garry said.
“Ain’t got no weed in here, man. I don’t feel like doing this,” McNeil said.
“It smells like weed,” Garry said.
Garry asked McNeil to step out of the car to search him. The video recording stops.
The civil complaint states that Garry handcuffed McNeil and again searched his vehicle without permission or probable cause.
Garry did not find any contraband and McNeil was again free to go. Later, McNeil would file a second internal affairs complaint for the “unprovoked and unnecessary traffic stop by Officer Garry.”
McNeil described this encounter with Garry as “harassment at best.
“Because there was no reason for him to pull me over other than facial recognition,” McNeil said.
“And I can’t understand why he would even persist on bothering me when he knows that I don’t really have a liking toward him or other officers that were involved in this whole thing because it was stupid, excuse my language.”
Since these incidents, McNeil said he fears Buffalo police. He said he hopes to bring “accountability” through his lawsuit.
“I’ve never feared police in my life,” he said.
“But now I don’t know who to trust and who not to trust. So, I try to avoid them as much as possible.”