It’s an all too familiar story: Greg Kwiatkowski’s, a white cop “in a rage,” was using a chokehold on a black man, Neal Mack, who pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. Mack was in handcuffs and had been punched in the face while restrained.

But this story ends differently than the story of George Floyd or Eric Garner. Because Cariol Horne, a black female officer with the Buffalo, NY police department, intervened.

She may have saved the man’s life – but it cost her her career and her pension. She was fired from the Buffalo police department for getting into a fistfight with Kwiatkowski at the scene.

That incident occurred in 2006. Horne was fired two years later after she refused to accept a suspension. The white officer sued Horne for defamation and won a $65,000 judgment. Horne worked odd jobs and lived out of her car for periods of time, according to The Buffalo News.

On Tuesday, a judge annulled her firing and ruled that she is entitled to her pension, benefits and back pay.

“The legal system can at the very least be a mechanism to help justice prevail, even if belatedly,” the judge, Justice Dennis E. Ward, wrote. “The time is always right to do right,” he said, invoking Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The judge also referred to the deaths of Floyd and Garner. “While the Eric Garners and the George Floyds of the world never had a chance for a ‘do-over,’ at least here the correction can be done,” Ward wrote. (Watch Horne’s CBS News interview describing her long fight for justice above.)

“Her conduct should have been encouraged and instead she was fired,” W. Neil Eggleston, a lawyer for Horne, said in an interview with The New York Times.

The Horne-Kwiatkowski saga has a twisted legal history. CBS News summarizes:

Kwiatkowski sued Horne and her lawyer for defamation. In 2011, a judge found that Horne’s lawyer made eight statements that were considered defamatory and false, including the claim that Horne “saved the life of a suspect who was already in handcuffs and was being choked out by officer Greg Kwiatkowski.”
But Mack maintains that Horne saved his life.
“He was choking me. I was handcuffed. Cariol Horne said, ‘You killing him, Greg,’ and she reached over and tried to grab his hand around my neck,'” Mack told CBS This Morning last year.
Mack sued five officers involved in his arrest in 2012. A jury found no wrongdoing in a ruling of 5-1. The juror who sided with Mack was the only Black person on the jury, reports the Buffalo News.

Kwiatkowski would eventually serve four months in prison for unrelated civil right violations. WKBW, ABC’s Buffalo affiliate, provides details:

In May of 2009, Kwiatkowski was working an overnight shift when he responded to a call on Treehaven Road. Cheektowaga police had stopped a vehicle believed to be involved in a BB gun shooting earlier that night. Four people, ages 16 to 18, were inside. Kwiatkowski admitted to using “unreasonable and excessive” force on the suspects. That force included shoving their heads and upper torsos into a vehicle.

The Tuesday ruling in Horne’s favor, The Buffalo News writes, is a product of “the city’s adoption in 2020 of “Cariol’s Law,” a series of laws that make it a crime for a law enforcement officer to fail to intervene when another officer is using excessive force and also protects whistleblowers.” The Buffalo News continues:

Included in Cariol’s Law was a provision – “Retroactive Protection for Officers” – which allows an officer “found to have been terminated for reporting the objectively unreasonable use of force against a civilian or intervening to stop the use of objectively unreasonable force by a fellow officer within the 20-year period preceding the adoption of the law” to have that finding reviewed by a court.

In a statement, Horne said “”The battle is not over, so anyone can still help take Cariol’s Law nationally.”