Images and Story By Tito Ruiz / TRu iNk Media. ( above activists marching during February 2017 Justice for Meech Protests downtown Buffalo )
Saturday, August 7, would have marked Wardel “Meech” Davis’s 25th birthday.
Unfortunately, his life was cut short by Buffalo Police on February 7, 2017, after he was placed in a chokehold and savagely beaten while lying prone (on his chest).
The officers involved, Todd McCalister and Nicholas Parisi, alleged that they stopped the then 20-year-old Meech to question him after he was supposedly seen leaving a suspicious home on Hoyt Street on the city’s West Side. Meech allegedly told the officers that he had marijuana on him. But it remains a mystery as to where the alleged marijuana went since it was never recovered.
One of the officers alleged that they tried to handcuff Meech after he declared he had marijuana. That’s when he supposedly “fled several feet, tripped, fell, and became violent while lying face down on the ground.” Meech was then placed in a chokehold and repeatedly punched in the face. According to the Erie County Medical Examiner, Meech suffered from “ blunt impact injuries of the head, neck, torso, and extremities…Most of the injuries were located on Mr. Davis’s face, particularly around his nose, lips, and cheek. Mr. Davis’s left eye was swollen shut and there was a large abrasion on his right cheek and on the right side of his nose.”
The Buffalo Police Department Use of Force Policy prohibits officers punishing persons “for fleeing, resisting arrest or assaulting a member, or for any other reason,” but both officers claimed that the excessive force was necessary to protect themselves from harm. Despite the repeated blows to the face while placed in a chokehold, the medical examiner deemed Meech’s death “a homicide due to his pre-existing medical condition: bronchitis/asthma.”
However, missing evidence from the crime scene, conflicting officer reports about the incident, one of the two missing witnesses dying from an alleged drug overdose, and an improper police investigation, are all factors that prompted the community to repeatedly demand accountability for Meech’s death. And in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, those ultimatums increased significantly–yet they seemingly fell on deaf ears.
In fact, nearly two weeks after Floyd’s death, CBS This Morning asked Mayor Byron W. Brown about the graphic messages from community members who wrote “Justice for Meech or No Peace” with chalk on the exterior of city hall. Brown, who is seeking a fifth term as a write-in-candidate for mayor after losing the Democratic primary to India Walton in June, said, “And we’re fine with that because those messages can be removed.”
Several days prior to his sit down with CBS, Brown announced that he was banning the use of chokeholds by Buffalo police to apparently prevent another George Floyd incident. Brown said, “Officers are not trained to use the [chokehold] method in the academy, and that it’s not something officers are ever instructed to do in the City of Buffalo.” Brown said that since the police manual didn’t expressly prohibit the use of deadly chokeholds, he was making it clear that officers can no longer do so. However, the current Buffalo Police Department Use of Force Policy does allows for officers to exercise “pain compliance holds” when a person “physically resists” arrest. According to the LA Times, prior to the LAPD banning chokeholds in 1983, “the department defined the chokehold as a “form of pain compliance.”
While several states have prohibited the use of prone restraints, New York State and the City of Buffalo, specifically, have not. Ohio for example, banned prone restraints in 2009. On its state website, it says that “Placing people in a prone position is a potentially fatal maneuver that reduces a person’s ability to breathe. The dangers of restraint-related positional asphyxia are well documented.”
Subsequent to Meech’s death, the medical examiner grew frustrated with the officers refusal to cooperate with her investigation. Therefore, she stated she was going to list Meech’s death as a homicide due to positional asphyxia caused by the officers and not as a homicide as a result of his respiratory condition. In Floyd’s initial autopsy report, the medical examiner declared that Floyd died as a result of pre-existing issues. That claim was later proved to be false. Floyd died due to positional asphyxia as a result of a prone restraint.
Needless to say, much work needs to be done to reimagine policing in Buffalo. One can’t help but wonder, however, would Wardel “Meech” Davis still be alive if Buffalo’s four-term mayor had banned chokeholds before George Floyd’s murder? And, at what point will Buffalo officials stop turning a blind eye to police corruption, cover ups, and ambiguous policies?
To learn more about Wardel “Meech” Davis’s homicide, read the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit Report.