Home featured N.Y. Judge Mark Grisanti Pushes Buffalo Police Officer

N.Y. Judge Mark Grisanti Pushes Buffalo Police Officer

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The video begins with the Buffalo police arriving at the scene of a vulgarity-laced dispute between two sets of neighbors over where someone parked a car. On one side: a shirtless man and his wife, in a pink top; on the other, a family that lives across the street.

As the officers try to separate them, the woman in pink continues to scream. One officer tells her to be quiet. She refuses, and another officer moves to restrain her. Her husband rushes up and pushes the officer.

“Dude,” the shirtless man says, “you better get off my wife,” adding an obscenity for emphasis.

The man is a New York Supreme Court justice, Mark J. Grisanti, and he is not shy in citing his connections as he speaks to the officers, invoking his friendship with the mayor and his ties to the police.

Justice Grisanti, who is white, was not criminally charged — and at least one Buffalo official is asking whether the authorities let him off easy because of his status and race. After the video from the June episode surfaced this week, Justice Grisanti is also facing scrutiny from a judicial disciplinary panel.

“I highly doubt that if it was an African-American man with no authority that this would have ended the same way,” said Darius G. Pridgen, the president of Buffalo’s Common Council. Mr. Pridgen, who is Black, added that he did not take issue with the actions of the officers at the scene, who detained Justice Grisanti and his wife, Maria.

“What happened after that is what’s cloudy in the minds of many people, especially in the African-American community,” he said, adding: “I have heard explanations. I don’t understand them.”

A lawyer for Justice Grisanti, Leonard D. Zaccagnino, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The body camera footage, first obtained through public records requests and published by Law360 and the local television station WKBW, captured an altercation that Justice Grisanti says in the video is the latest chapter in a long-running neighborhood feud.

The officer’s attempt to handcuff Ms. Grisanti follows several warnings, the video shows. The move sends Justice Grisanti into a rage and prompts him to launch into several warnings of his own.

“My daughter and my son-in-law are both police officers,” he says. “I’ll call them right now.”

“You arrest my wife, you’re going to be sorry,” he adds, continuing to pepper his threats with obscenities. His speech is slurred while he speaks. He tells the officers it is because he was punched, but one of them says that he “smells like cheap beer.”

“If you don’t get the cuffs off her right now, you’re going to have a problem,” Justice Grisanti continues. At another point, invoking Buffalo’s mayor, he says, “Listen, I’m good friends with Byron Brown.”

After he has been trying to explain himself for several minutes, he apologizes to the officer he pushed for trying to “tackle” him. But he then tells the officers they should “chill out,” calling it “constructive criticism.”

“Let me give you some constructive criticism,” one of the officers responds angrily. “You want to drop another copper’s name?” the officer yells before putting the judge in handcuffs.

“You want to make us look dirty, is that what you want to do?” the officer continues, his voice rising. “So how am I helping you now?” he says as he tightens the cuffs.

The officer adds: “You’re dropping everybody’s name with a badge and you’re expecting special treatment. How does that look like to everybody in this environment right now?”

“It doesn’t look good,” Justice Grisanti says, adding, “You’re right.”

Kait Munro, a spokeswoman for the Erie County district attorney, John J. Flynn, responded to a request for comment by referring to a statement issued in July after no charges were filed. She said the decision “was at the discretion of the Buffalo police.”

“It was their decision to not file any charges,” she said.

The Buffalo Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did a spokesman for Mr. Brown, who, according to local media reports, issued a statement this week saying it was his policy not to interfere in police investigations.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state court system, said, “We are aware of the investigation involving Justice Grisanti, as is the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.”

The commission’s administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, declined to comment on Justice Grisanti specifically, but he said the panel “investigates allegations of misconduct against judges, on or off the bench, that are publicly reported.”

The June altercation was not the first public tussle for Justice Grisanti.

In 2012, when he was a state senator, he got into a scuffle in a lobby bar at a Seneca Nation casino in Niagara Falls. He said he had been attacked after trying to mediate a dispute between two other men, but several witnesses said he was the aggressor. No charges were filed.

Justice Grisanti, 55, was appointed to the state’s Court of Claims by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2015 and designated as a Supreme Court justice in 2018, according to court officials. He presides over civil cases and earns $210,900 a year.

He served two terms in the State Senate before becoming a judge and may be best known to New Yorkers as one of four Republican senators to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011, giving Mr. Cuomo the margin needed to pass the law.

He had promised as a candidate to oppose the legislation, and Mr. Cuomo recalls in his 2014 memoir, “All Things Possible,” the fraught deliberations that consumed then-Senator Grisanti up until the vote.

“He was torn and noncommittal, but I could tell that he got it,” Mr. Cuomo wrote, describing the four Republican senators who voted “yes” on same-sex marriage as “profiles in courage” and part of “my pantheon of political heroes.”

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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