A second officer grabbed Grisanti and pulled him away.
“My daughter and my son-in-law are both Buffalo police officers,” the man said, berating the second officer.
More than two weeks after the incident, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said he was not pressing charges. But since legal news website Law360 published the body-cam footage on Tuesday, prosecutors have faced new scrutiny as to why Grisanti faced no legal repercussions.
As mass protests have erupted this year over deadly and violent confrontations between police officers and Black men and women, critics noted that Grisanti, a former state senator, and his wife, who are both White, faced a different outcome when they physically challenged officers.
“Now do this scenario and the judge and his wife are black…” one person tweeted.
But Grisanti’s attorney argued that his client did not get special treatment from police.
“The only two people that got handcuffed and got taken down to the police station was judge Grisanti and his wife,” Leonard Zaccagnino told The Washington Post in an interview. “I don’t consider that to be favorable treatment.”
Grisanti, a Republican, was a state senator for four years, until he lost his seat in 2014. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) appointed Grisanti to the New York State Court of Claims the following year.
The incident in late June started with a dispute that turned physical between Grisanti, 55, and his wife, Maria, 60, and their neighbors. According to Grisanti’s recounting of the fight to the police officers, which was captured on body-cam footage, the judge and his wife were angry at the neighbors over a parking space. Grisanti said they have had issues with the neighbors for years.
Upon arrival, police separated the two parties. Body-cam footage shows the neighbors saying that the judge and his wife were intoxicated. But the officer’s questioning was cut short when Maria Grisanti continued to yell and threaten them. After multiple warnings, the officer crossed the street and attempted to handcuff her, at which point Mark Grisanti became enraged, stormed over to the officer and shoved him.
He repeated that his daughter and son-in-law are Buffalo police officers and said the officers would regret arresting his wife.
“If you don’t get the cuffs off her, we’re going to have a problem,” Grisanti said. “He needs to get the cuffs off her.”
“We’re not going to do that by your demand,” the second officer said.
With Maria Grisanti handcuffed inside the police vehicle, three officers stood around the judge as he described what happened. At some point, Mark Grisanti slurred his words, which he attributed to a busted lip from being punched by the neighbor, but body-cam footage shows an officer saying that the couple were drunk. The judge then name-dropped the mayor of Buffalo.
“Listen, I’m good friends with Byron Brown,” Grisanti said, adding that the Democratic mayor had given him advice on how to deal with the neighbors.
The conversation soon turned contentious as Grisanti again brought up his connections in the police department, including Joseph Gramaglia, the deputy police commissioner. One of the officers grew agitated at what he perceived to be the judge trying to curry favor because of his various relationships.
“You want to drop another copper’s name? You want to scream about how you know Gramaglia or the mayor?” the officer yelled, his face close to Grisanti’s.
The officer then walked around the judge, put his hands in cuffs and escorted him to the police car. “You’re dropping everybody’s name with a badge and you’re expecting special treatment,” he said. “How does that look like to everybody in this environment right now?” The officer added, “You smell like cheap beer.”
“It doesn’t look good. You’re right,” the judge responded softly.
While in the back seat of the vehicle, an officer held out a cellphone and put it on speaker. On the line was Grisanti’s first cousin, Detective Mark Costantino, who asked the judge to explain what happened.
“If you get arrested, that’s going to be all over — you know it’s going to be on the news,” Costantino said.
“I know,” the judge replied.
According to the videos, Grisanti and his wife were detained for over an hour. In July, Flynn said his office would not pursue charges against the Grisantis or the neighbors, calling the altercation “childish,” according to Law360.
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office declined to comment.
After the incident, Grisanti’s neighbors wrote to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to report the judge’s actions, WKBW reported. The neighbors told the station that they had been contacted by the commission. Zaccagnino, the attorney, said that he hasn’t been contacted by the commission but that considering past experience, he is almost certain it is doing an investigation.
Zaccagnino said that Grisanti and his wife are “embarrassed” and “very unhappy about what occurred.”
“The officer was grabbing her and putting her on the ground. He reacted to that, as I believe any husband would react if anybody saw their loved one being handled that way,” Zaccagnino said, clarifying that he wasn’t justifying the judge’s actions. “They obviously didn’t want this to happen.”