BUFFALO, N.Y. – A former Buffalo Public Schools student who lost a race for the school board may sue the city after he alleges police spread “fake news on purpose” to smear him.
Attorney James Ostrowski told The Buffalo News he plans to file a notice of claim today against the city on behalf of 18-year-old Austin Harig, a Buffalo Federation of Teachers-backed candidate who lost his race for a seat on the school board to former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino by 132 votes.
The issue started when police responded to a call for help from Harig’s South Buffalo home in August and found Brett Garlock unconscious and bleeding on the front porch. Garlock and a cousin attended a party at Harig’s home and got into an argument with one of Harig’s roommates, Harig’s criminal attorney, Daniel Grasso, told the news site.
Garlock suffered serious injuries, including a head wound, two swollen eyes, a head fracture, and missing teeth, and police arrested Harig for first-degree gang assault, among other charges, despite the fact that the teen allegedly attempted to give Garlock first-aid.
“He went downstairs to help the guy,” Grasso said.
Harig spent 12 days in the Erie County Holding Center before his bail was reduced and he was released. A grand jury dismissed the charges against him earlier this month, WBFO reports.
Harig now blames police for “creating an absolute fabrication” about the incident, alleging they spread “fake news on purpose” to discredit and embarrass him.
“I might be wrong. There might be some other motive, but I feel they put me on the line and made me suffer,” he told the News. “That was very humiliating for someone like me who has never been in a fight. These officers came and tried to accuse me of something that was entirely wrong.”
“I can’t point the finger, but on the other hand, all of a sudden I run for office and cops start coming to my door almost once a week,” he said.
The notice of claim filed this week is the first step toward suing the city for false arrest and malicious prosecution, WBFO reports.
The lawsuit centers on “the negative publicity, which arises from false arrest,” Ostrowski told the news site. “The incarceration, the physiological trauma of a young person going through this, and for no reason.”
“What matters is was there probable cause to arrest and charge, and there was not,” he said. “You can’t undo the extensive media coverage. There’s really no way to undo any of that and that’s what I think the defendants will have to answer for in court.”
WBFO reports the assault arrest was Harig’s second for 2016. He was also arrested in June on allegations he served alcohol to minors, though that charge was also dismissed in September for lack of evidence.
Harig told the News he’s upset about the alleged false arrest, but the bigger issue is the assault on Garlock remains unsolved.
“The thing that upsets me the most is that Brett did not get to see justice,” he said. “I pointed out the suspects who had blood on their hands and blood on their shoes. He didn’t get justice.”