Ju­ries lean­ing to­ward po­lice in bru­tal­ity cases

Le­gal ex­perts cite due dili­gence, re­spect for law en­force­ment and more

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Phil Fair­banks

When Mar­tin Lit­tle­field is asked about ju­ries and po­lice of­fi­cers, he points to the po­lice bru­tal­ity trial he over­saw 17 years ago.

It was shortly after 9/11 and Lit­tle­field, a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Buf­falo, was pur­su­ing a lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cial in a case he de­scribed as open and shut.

To his sur­prise, the jury re­turned a not guilty ver­dict.

A few days later, Lit­tle­field said, one of the jurors sent him a note apol­o­giz­ing for the ver­dict and ex­plain­ing why they ac­quit­ted a cop they knew was guilty.

After 9/11, the note said, “we need to stand by our law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.”

“Peo­ple don’t want in any way to show dis­re­spect for the po­lice,” said Lit­tle­field, now a crim­i­nal jus­tice pro­fes­sor at SUNY Buf­falo State. “There’s a clear sen­ti­ment among peo­ple that law en­force­ment is out there to pro­tect us.”

Years later, and after two tri­als ac­quit­ting Buf­falo po­lice of­fi­cers of ex­ces­sive force, some may see Lit­tle­field’s story as prophetic.

In Au­gust of last year, jurors de­cid­ing the fate of two cops re­turned with a ver­dict that cleared them of all four charges against them.

Six months later, a jury in a dif­fer­ent po­lice bru­tal­ity case found the Buf­falo po­lice of­fi­cer on trial not guilty on three of four charges and dead­locked on the fi­nal one.

The verdicts, while sep­a­rate and dis­tinct, are part of a trend here and across the coun­try prompt­ing the ques­tion: Why do so many po­lice pros­e­cu­tions end in ac­quit­tals and mis­tri­als?

Ex­perts say it’s ju­ries do­ing their job.

“I don’t think they get the ben­e­fit of the doubt,” Maria Haber­feld, a pro­fes­sor of po­lice sci­ence at John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in New York City, said of po­lice of­fi­cers on trial.

Haber­feld doesn’t buy the pro-cop bias ar­gu­ment and sug­gests the re­cent trend of ac­quit­tals and dead­locks in ex­ces­sive force cases, not just here, but across the na­tion, is be­cause of re­spon­si­ble ju­ries.

Un­like the pub­lic, which may be fa­mil­iar with the al­le­ga­tions against an of­fi­cer, or may have seen just a brief video of the in­ci­dent, the jury hears a more com­plete story, ac­cord­ing to Haber­feld.

“I think it’s an eye-opener for jurors,” she said. “The pub­lic tends to see a frag­ment, a small piece of what’s hap­pen-

uct, trav­el­ing to speak­ing en­gage­ments on week­ends and help­ing take care of the thou­sands of other lit­tle de­tails that come with run­ning a busi­ness.

“We earned it to­gether. We didn’t know any­thing about for­mu­la­tions or or­der­ing raw ma­te­ri­als,” Cun­ning­ham said. “She took the lead, tak­ing me where there were no kids al­lowed and bring­ing me around busi­ness own­ers so I could see that life up close.”

Her dad, who gave her seed money, just re­cently came on board as chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

Now, Zan­dra is a skin care ex­ec­u­tive, an in­ter­na­tional speaker and au­thor, and uses her ca­reer as a plat­form for girl em­pow­er­ment.

It started with a mail-or­der kit and con­tin­ued when her mom helped re­search and per­fect dif­fer­ent skin care recipes us­ing food in­gre­di­ents they had at home.

To­gether they made lip balm and lo­tions for them­selves, which Zan­dra started shar­ing at church. Soon, she was sell­ing them at farm­ers mar­kets and craft shows, and had a se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion that out­grew their kitchen and moved into an in­cu­ba­tor space at the Foundry.

To­day they have a 5,000-square-foot space in the Pierce Ar­row Com­merce Park on Great Ar­row Av­enue. The man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity has a show­room and a sep­a­rate space to host par­ties, mak­ers’ work­shops and sci­ence-based beauty classes for kids and teens.

After sell­ing prod­ucts at Re­new Bath and Body on Elm­wood Av­enue, Zan­dra Beauty’s first big break came in 2016 with Etsy.com’s Open Call con­test.

That put Zan­dra and about 35 other en­trepreneurs in front of buy­ers from ma­jor com­pa­nies like Macy’s, HGTV and Whole Foods Mar­ket. Zan­dra Beauty ended up win­ning a con­tract with craft and sta­tionery chain Pa­per Source to put prod­ucts in its 110 stores that hol­i­day sea­son.

It was their big­gest or­der ever: 8,000 units.

“We had ev­ery­body in here help­ing us. Felt like the whole city of Buf­falo. Our church, the com­mu­nity. Peo­ple were stay­ing un­til 3 a.m.,” she said. “It was one for the books.”

The prod­ucts caught the eye of “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica,” and the show fea­tured Cun­ning­ham and her com­pany on its “Deals and Steals” seg­ment. On­line sales took off, and ma­jor com­pa­nies took no­tice. Costco, Weg­mans and Whole Foods placed or­ders.

Most re­cently, the com­pany was ap­proached by Tar­get and put to­gether a limited-re­lease gift box for Black His­tory Month. The in­ven­tory needed to stock the 707 stores across the coun­try was more than dou­ble what the com­pany had ever pro­duced.

Cun­ning­ham’s fa­ther, James, once a vice pres­i­dent at a col­lec­tions agency and thus an ex­pert at track­ing peo­ple down, used his de­tec­tive skills to find con­tact in­for­ma­tion for buy­ers at more ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions. Zan­dra Beauty was able to garner in­ter­est from Zulily, Rite Aid and Wal­greens, but had to put some things on hold in or­der to catch up after the Tar­get deal.

Hav­ing your dad as an em­ployee can lead to some in­ter­est­ing sit­u­a­tions – Zan­dra calls him by his first name, for ex­am­ple – but they make it work.

“When it comes down to busi­ness, I don’t pull parental rank. I’ll present all the in­for­ma­tion to her in a con­vinc­ing way and let her make a de­ci­sion,” he said. “If there’s a con­flict, she wins.”

Dad is a re­cent ad­di­tion to the staff. Zan­dra cred­its her mother with plant­ing and wa­ter­ing the seeds that grew into the Zan­dra Beauty busi­ness.

Her mom’s phi­los­o­phy has been to steer her chil­dren ac­cord­ing to their pas­sions and let them try ev­ery­thing.

Rather than wait un­til col­lege, her mom’s motto has al­ways been, “We’re gonna find your thing now,” Cun­ning­ham said.

“My sib­lings and I know you have to be care­ful what you say around my mom. If you say you’re in­ter­ested in some­thing, she’ll have you in a class by Mon­day,” Cun­ning­ham said. “She does not play in re­gards to mak­ing things hap­pen.”

That par­ent­ing style has re­sulted in one cloth­ing de­signer sis­ter, one young jewelry de­signer and au­thor brother, and two ath­lete brothers.

The youngest per­son ever to grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity at Buf­falo School of Man­age­ment’s Mi­nor­ity and Women Emerg­ing En­trepreneurs pro­gram at age 13, Cun­ning­ham started at UB in the fall, work­ing to­ward a busi­ness de­gree.

Though she likely knows enough to teach some of the classes she’s tak­ing, and though she rolled her eyes when talk­ing about last se­mes­ter’s English class re­quire­ments, she said a col­lege de­gree is im­por­tant to her and her fam­ily. She has also found a help­ful men­tor and learned some im­por­tant things in her ma­jor so far.

De­spite start­ing col­lege (she for­merly at­tended Nardin Academy and was later home­schooled), Cun­ning­ham has no in­ten­tions of slow­ing down. In 2017, she won $15,000 for her busi­ness plan from the Pitch, a spinoff from the state’s 43North startup com­pe­ti­tion.

Next up, she’ll be branch­ing out into cos­met­ics and hair care (all made in Buf­falo with all-nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents sourced in the United States). She will be col­lab­o­rat­ing with her sis­ter on a cloth­ing line and plans to push harder into trav­el­ing to speak on fe­male em­pow­er­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and en­trepreneur­ship.

Maybe, just maybe, she will be will­ing to sell her com­pany in the fu­ture, but only if the buyer keeps it a black-owned busi­ness. More likely, she will hang onto it her­self.

“Hon­estly, I want to see this com­pany through,” she said. “I want to build my em­pire 15 sto­ries high.”

Robert Kirkham/Buf­falo News

Zan­dra Beauty is a fam­ily af­fair. From left, her fa­ther, James, Zan­dra, her mother, Ta­mara, and brother Josiah work in the lab and pro­duc­tion area. She has been mak­ing her own plant-based beauty prod­ucts since she was 9 years old. Now at 18, she sells her prod­ucts na­tion­ally in stores such as Tar­get and Costco and is a na­tional speaker for girl em­pow­er­ment.

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