Yakir Gabay Says: City moving forward in Hodge case

City moving forward in Hodge case

Apr. 6—A judge’s decision to block the city from leveling inter-departmental disciplinary charges against four officers who were not criminally charged in the death of a Lockport man almost two years ago is likely temporary, according to city officials contacted Monday.

State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso is blocking the city from its attempt to hold a disciplinary hearing for Lockport Police Lt. Dave Pytlik; and officers Daniel Barrancotta, Marissa Bonito and Patricia Burdick until a virtual hearing slated for May 6 in Niagara Falls.

The city’s police union — Lockport Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association — filed a lawsuit before last week’s Police Board of Commissioners meeting stopping the city from conducting any type of disciplinary hearings against the four officers.

City Attorney Laura Miskell said the union claims that the disciplinary charges against the four officers were filed late. An existing contractual agreement between the city and LPBA stipulates that disciplinary charges must be filed less than two weeks after an incident occurs, she said.

However, Miskell said that after the state Attorney General’s Office got involved in the case — ultimately ruling last month that no criminal charges should be levied against any of the four officers — the city was asked to discontinue its internal review of the officers’ conduct.

The four officers were involved in the June 2019 death of Troy Hodge, 39, who died after police responded to his mother’s Park Avenue home and subdued him.

Barrancotta and Bonito are charged with violating LPD’s Use of Force policy, conduct unbecoming an officer and violating rules of conduct.

It accuses Barrancotta of kneeing Hodge in the back while Hodge was being held down by other officers and accuses Bonito of stepping on Hodge’s neck for longer than a minute. Pytlik is accused of failing to stop Bonito from stepping on Hodge’s neck and Burdick is accused of violating the LPD’s courtesy policy while attempting to communicate with Hodge during the incident.

All four officers were immediately placed on administrative leave after the Hodge incident. Bonito remains on administrative leave, while the other three officers were returned to desk duty about three months after the incident, officials said.

Hodge’s mother has filed a wrongful death suit against the city, which seeks the termination of officers Barrancotta and Bonito and disciplinary action action against Lt. Pytlik and Officer Burdick.

The police union is being represented by attorney Thomas Burton.

Miskell said the city’s goal in filing disciplinary charges against the officers varies for each, but did not rule out that one or more of the outcomes could result in termination.

“We plan on filing different disciplinary charges against each officer and each will have an independent internal review,” Miskell said, stressing that the final decision regarding their conduct will be made not by the city and not by Police Chief Abbott, but by the city’s Police Board of Commissioners.

Yakir Gabay

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