Steve Cohen—a civil rights attorney retained by the family of Rafael “Pito” Rivera, who was shot dead by police Wednesday—told Investigative Post he suspects Buffalo police are engaging in a coverup.
Cohen, in an exclusive interview with Investigative Post, said police have been uncooperative, to the point of refusing to allow the Rivera family to view the body or provide basic information about the fatal encounter. Police, he said, are typically quick to share information in the case of justifiable shootings.
“When the police refuse to interact with the family, refuse to interact with the family’s attorney, refuse to answer questions, refuse to to show evidence, that suggests a coverup,” Cohen said.
“The family was not allowed to view the body,” a refusal that Cohen characterized as “very unusual,” in part because the family has a legal right to do so.
“I tried to go into the medical examiner’s office today and they would not let me view the body. I want to see if the entrance wounds were in the back or not.”
Cohen noted that three men of color have died at police hands since last year: Wardell “Meech” Davis, in February 2017; Jose Hernandez-Rossy, in May of last year; and now Rivera.
“Police officers are supposed to be trained to de-escalate situations; that appears to not be happening in the field,” he said.
Investigative Post has reported a number of problems related to the police department’s use of force, including:
A lack of de-escalation and firearms training.
Little accountability when police are accused of misconduct.
Unconstitutional tactics used by the now-disbanded Strike Force.
Cohen said he will continue his investigation and press police for answers. But just one day into his work, he said it’s already “beginning to smell.”
Jim Heaney is the editor of Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative journalism center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York.