March 27, 2017
By MARK TOOR
|PATRICK J. LYNCH: Proves CCRB cannot be trusted|
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch criticized the Civilian Complaint Review Board last week over the leak of confidential disciplinary files involving Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer whose takedown of Eric Garner is considered by many to have contributed to his death.
Only Penalty: 2 Days
The independent website ThinkProgress published a document March 21 labeled “Officer History” showing that Mr. Pantaleo had 14 complaints filed against him in seven separate incidents from April 29, 2009 to his fateful encounter with Mr. Garner on July 17, 2014. The agency substantiated four of the allegations, which arose from two separate incidents, according to the document.
For substantiated complaints, the CCRB recommends penalties to the NYPD, which can accept or reject them. In one incident, Mr. Pantaleo lost two vacation days. In the second, he was ordered to undergo additional training.
“According to the opinion of experts interviewed by ThinkProgress and our own review of CCRB data, this, along with the sheer number of cases, indicates a chronic history of complaints against Pantaleo and would make his disciplinary history with the CCRB among the worst on the force,” the website wrote.
The document was received from “an anonymous source who said they worked at the” CCRB, according to the website.
An internal CCRB investigation found the leaker, described as an employee of less than a year but not identified. He was forced to resign.
Harsh Words for CCRB
That wasn’t enough for Mr. Lynch. “The firing of the leaker is a positive first step, but the release of a police officer’s confidential personnel records is still a crime that should be thoroughly investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said in a March 23 statement. “This was an illegal effort to short-circuit laws that protect police officers’ safety, privacy and due-process rights, and a thorough examination of this individual’s actions and the entire organization is the only way to make certain there is a strong deterrent to such actions in the future.”
Two days earlier he had stated, “The leak of such information is simply another demonstration of the CCRB’s inability to function in the fair and impartial manner prescribed by the City Charter. It is an agency that actively solicits complaints, places pressure on citizens to continue questionable claims and presides over a system that encourages the pursuit of false, unsworn allegations.
“Their ineptness is well-documented and well-known and renders virtually any information released or leaked by the agency as meaningless.”
‘Pretty Troubling’ Paradox
A staff lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, Cynthia Conti-Cook, offered a different perspective, telling the New York Times, “They’re going to fire a CCRB leaker before they will fire a man who killed an unarmed man [while] on duty as a police officer. It’s pretty troubling.”
The NYPD did not discuss Mr. Pantaleo’s disciplinary record but instead targeted the leaker.
“The leak was totally inappropriate and illegal,” said Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs Lawrence Byrne the day after the story was published.
Mr. Pantaleo, who joined the NYPD in July 2006, has been on modified duty without his gun and badge since the incident. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict him in December 2014. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into whether he violated Mr. Garner’s civil rights. At the end of President Obama’s term, it was stalled by a dispute between Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Washington D.C. over whether Mr. Pantaleo had used a chokehold, which is legal but prohibited by NYPD policy.
It was reported by the New York Post late last week that two police witnesses, including Deputy Inspector Joseph Veneziano, the commanding officer of the 120th Precinct, to which Officer Pantaleo was assigned, had testified March 22 before a grand jury in Brooklyn Federal Court.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer unilaterally settled a wrongful-death case by the Garner family for $5.9 million.
City’s New Reading
The Legal Aid Society filed a case in State Supreme Court early in 2015 seeking CCRB disciplinary records on Mr. Pantaleo. The city argued that it was prohibited from releasing the information by Section 50-a of the State Human Rights Law, which says agencies must keep personnel data about the discipline of police officers secret. In July of that year, Justice Alice Schlesinger ordered the records released, saying that they were not the same as personnel records. The city appealed.
The case brought renewed focus on Section 50-a, which the NYPD had ignored for the first 40 years after it was passed, to keep attorneys from using personnel records to impeach the credibility of police officers on the stand. The department said it had realized only last year that it was in violation. Civil-liberties groups said Mayor de Blasio was interpreting the law too strictly. He disagreed but said that he would like to see the law changed.
Won’t Announce Decision?
Last August, a month before retiring as Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton said Section 50-a would prohibit the department from announcing any punitive action against Mr. Pantaleo.
Mr. Pantaleo was in plainclothes in the 120th in Staten Island when his unit responded to a complaint that Eric Garner, a hulking 400-pound petty criminal with a history of more than 30 arrests, was selling untaxed, single cigarettes. The Chief of Department at the time, Philip Banks III, had reportedly ordered a crackdown on the sale of “loosies” in the borough.
Mr. Garner told officers he had not done anything wrong and refused to be arrested. Mr. Pantaleo, who is substantially smaller, moved behind him and threw his arm around his neck and yanked. Mr. Garner repeatedly shouted “I can’t breathe” as Mr. Pantaleo and other officers brought him to the ground. An hour later, he died of a heart attack in a hospital emergency room.
An amateur video drove the narrative by making it appear that Mr. Pantaleo had deployed an NYPD-banned chokehold against Mr. Garner. The PBA said no chokehold was employed. The Sergeants Benevolent Association said that if one was used, it lasted only a few seconds, not long enough to do damage.
Mr. Pantaleo’s lawyer, Stuart London, said his client told a Staten Island grand jury that it was another hold he learned at the Police Academy. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office listed neck and chest compression—including a chokehold—and his position on the ground as factors, along with obesity and other health problems.
The grand jury’s decision not to indict Mr. Pantaleo brought days of protests from New Yorkers who believed he used a chokehold and raised questions about the grand-jury handling of cases involving civilians who die at the hands of law-enforcement.
Seventeen days after the decision, a mentally-ill ex-con took the bus from Baltimore to Brooklyn, sneaked up on two police officers sitting in a patrol car and opened fire, killing them. Before killing himself in a nearby subway station, the man sent messages on social media saying he had killed Police Officers Rafael Ramos and Wen-Jian Liu in revenge for the death of Mr. Garner and other black men killed by white police officers.