Buffalo, NY — When Christine Townsend, a registered nurse in Buffalo, found her neighbor’s pit bulls jumping at her windows and doors, frightening her dog and her 9-year-old daughter, she called 9-1-1 for help. However, when police finally showed up, more than an hour later, after multiple calls, they did anything but help her.
Because of the harassment, threats, and eventual brutality and deprivation of rights Townsend experienced at the hands of police that night, she has since filed a lawsuit against the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Police Department, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and two Police Officers, Mark Vara and Kelly Craig, for violating her civil rights under 42 U.S.C § 1983, known as ‘Section 1983’.
The 9-1-1 calls that Townsend made that night, she now regrets as she was the one who ended up in jail. On May 9, 2014, Townsend called police for help because two pit bulls, known to cause trouble in her neighborhood, were tearing into her front door and windows.
However, after the first call to 9-1-1, police never showed.
A little frustrated that police never showed up, and worried that one of the pit bulls was about to break through her window, Townsend called 9-1-1 again. This time, as the pit bulls continued to prowl her front porch, Townsend saw a police officer drive by — but fail to stop.
Townsend, now upset that police would drive by and do nothing, called dispatch once again told them that she may need to report the officer who did not stop to a supervisor. It was after she threatened to file a complaint that police finally showed up but refused to get out of their cruiser, according to the lawsuit.
Townsend said Officers Mark Vara and Kelly Craig were yelling at her at the same time and she was yelling back.
Vara asked her, “If we shot the dogs would that make you happy?”
According to the lawsuit, yelling and swearing was rife all around with officer Craig repeating herself, “Where do the dogs live? Where do the dogs live?”
“Three doors down,” Townsend said.
Craig then said, “Come out and show me.”
As Townsend walked out to the sidewalk and pointed to the house, Vara berated her according to the lawsuit. “Go back in the house and shut the door and mind your own ‘fucking business,’” he shouted.
At this point, neighbors had come out after thinking a domestic incident was unfolded. However, when they walked out of their homes, they saw Buffalo police officer Vara stalking Townsend back into her home.
When Townsend asked for Vara’s name, Vara lunged and opened the door, grabbed Townsend’s left arm, pulling her out onto her porch. He turned her around, pushed her against the house, pulled her arms behind her back and handcuffed her, according to the lawsuit, as reported by Art Voice.
Townsend’s neighbor Wilfredo Pena watched as the situation went from bad to worse.
Pena said, “[Townsend’s] daughter starts yelling and crying and he actually pulled her and yanked her out of the house… The door to the house was open. The screen door was like she’s like holding it from inside her house. That’s when he grabbed her… she’s saying ‘my daughter, my daughter,’ because he’s pulling. As soon as I get to the porch he’s grabbing her and pulling her. She was going back, he’s going forward. And he eventually stronger, he pulled her out of the house.”
According to the lawsuit, Vara then yanked Townsend down the stairs of her porch, causing her to fall head first onto the ground.
The entire time, Townsend is deathly afraid of being separated from her daughter. “My daughter! my daughter!” Townsend cried.
According to the suit, Vara denies being rough and instead says Townsend was being uncooperative.
Pena, who was watching said, “He’s pulling her, he’s dragging her… She’s like resisting to come down, he’s pulling her, she falls. She’s just trying to stay with her daughter. She was saying ‘my daughter’, because she didn’t have no one. He’s pulling her, she’s trying to go back, ‘my daughter, my daughter.’ She’s – ‘I got no one there.’ She comes and goes down the steps.”
This time, Townsend was thrown to the ground with such force that she was injured.
“It was the left side of my body. My leg… the left knee because that’s where I felt pain on the left side of my body,” Townsend recalled to Art Voice. “My ankle had a lot of pain at that point. It felt like it had twisted, like it had rotated some unnatural motion into that leg, but the fall to the ground was so fast. I don’t really know certainly what position I landed but I do recall I landed forward.”
Vara claims that Townsend fell and that he did not push her.
Townsend’s attorney, Matt Albert, asked Vara in a deposition “It’s your testimony that my client threw herself onto the ground?”
To which Vara replied, “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
However, yet another witness, Patricia Barclay, who also watched the events unfold described the same thing as Pena.
“I saw as I was going across the street the police officers pulling her down the stairs… It was all very quick. She — basically, he pulled her down the porch,” Barclay said. “By the time I got there she was on the ground and I asked what was going on. They said they were there because for the dogs. Chris [Townsend] was worried about her daughter.
“When she was telling me that Cassandra was in the house, said — she was like ‘my daughter’s in the house,’ [Ofc. Vara] said ‘you should have thought about that, shut the fuck up.”
Vara and Craig then dragged Townsend and put her in the car.
Barclay recalls, “They put her in the car and closed the door so I couldn’t talk to her. I spoke to the male officer [Vara]. I asked him what was going on, and he said it was about that they had gotten a phone call about the dogs. And I believe I said, ‘Well, then why is Chris in trouble?’ And he said she had sworn at them. He wanted identification for Chris, and Cassandra got the wallet for him and I asked him if this was really all necessary. I said she’s a good person, she’s an RN. He said ‘Well, then she must be on drugs then the way she acted.’ I said ‘Well, that’s not true.’
“And then he got her identification. He was about to leave and I said ‘Could I follow you down there and bail her out.’ And he said no, she would have to spend the night.”
Instead of taking Townsend to jail, however, the officers drove her to the parking lot of Tim Hortons and began yelling at her demanding to know why she would try to get them in trouble, according to the lawsuit.
“Without us, your daughter, mother, and you would be victims of gang rape,” the officers said.
At this point, Townsend began to fear for her safety and quieted down. She was brought to jail where Vara and Craig would stack up a long list of bogus charges against her including disorderly conduct, as well as resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration.
However, all of the charges would quickly be dropped in the days following the arrest.
Townsend, who has never been involved with police before in her life is now taking legal action to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
The lawsuit alleges unlawful seizure, unlawful arrest, unlawful imprisonment, trespass, excessive force, battery, slander, malicious prosecution, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from events that began at Townsend’s residence on May 9th, 2014 which she alleges violated her constitutional rights as established in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
“This failure of the Department to adequately train its officers resulted in the Defendants’ actions that caused the Plaintiff harm, and will result in more unnecessary brutality unless corrective measures are taken by the City of Buffalo Police Department,” said Albert.
“Such arrest and prosecution was done without probable cause, where circumstances ended in favor of the complainant, and the circumstances in their totality, as set forth in this complaint, clearly are indicative of malice and bad faith undertaken by Defendants Vara and Craig, as would be found by any reasonable person viewing these facts objectively.”