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Attorney General takes on BPD traffic checkpoints investigation

WBFO News file photo

What began as a fight over the Buffalo Police Department traffic checkpoints is turning into a major probe of the police department by the state attorney general's office.

The AG's office was already looking into the deaths of two unarmed men in encounters with police, Wardel Davis and Jose Hernandez Rossy. Now, AG lawyers have asked police for a series of documents, from rules on how to conduct checkpoints to procedures on policing Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority properties.

The AG's office is refusing to say anything about what's going on. However, their request is apparently built upon a complaint from Black Lives Matter-Buffalo that police had a pattern of unconstitutional policing targeting people of color.

Lawyer Parker MacKay is co-counsel for the group and helped prepare the report, "Authority without Accountability," a two-year study of Buffalo Police practices by the University at Buffalo and Cornell Law Schools.                  

"When somebody submits a complaint to the Attorney General's office, they can decide to take that up, they can reject it, they can do nothing," MacKay said. "In this case, they have decided to look further. So they have issued a letter demand to the city's Corporation Counsel requesting various documentation in regards to some of the points that we raised in our original complaint."

Checkpoints have been an issue for a long time, with many on the East Side convinced they were only going on there.

When checkpoint data was finally released and reinforced in an update recently, it came out that checkpoints were going on across the city in large numbers. However, the report on criminal arrests also found that African Americans were far more likely to be arrested for a variety of offenses than whites.

Masten Common Councilmember Ulysees Wingo said although the data did not support concerns of inequity, the concern was valid.
"I am not going to downplay anyone's concerns or feelings of mistrust just because the data does not suggest that they're being or they're not being targeted," Wingo said.

He wants resolutions in those cases and others.

"We're all hoping that we'll get that resolved along with a whole lot of other cases that have gone unsolved," Wingo said. "We want to make sure that all of our cases are solved and are closed because people need closure on these issues, not just the families of these individuals that are affected, but the entire community needs closure on certain issues. So we're hoping not just that these case are solved, but all of our unsolved mysteries."

It is unclear how long this investigation might take, since the investigation into the death of Wardel Davis has been going on since February and that of Jose Hernandez Rossy since May and the Black Lives Matter complaint was filed August 31.

Police spokesman Michael DeGeorge said there will be no comment because of current litigation.

"As we said before the complaint was filed, any allegation of discrimination is completely false," DeGeorge said in a statement. "Since that complaint is currently being litigated, any further comment on this matter would be inappropriate at this time. "

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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