April 3, 2017
By MARK TOOR
No sooner had the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association demanded official investigations into information about the disciplinary history of the police officer blamed by many for the 2014 death of Eric Garner than the Civilian Complaint Review Board sprung a second leak.
Both stories appeared on the independent news website ThinkProgress.org. The first one, on March 21, involved Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed tackling Mr. Garner, a 400-pound petty criminal with a history of 30 arrests. Mr. Garner died about an hour later of a heart attack.
Released Haste’s File
The second leak, on March 28, involved Officer Richard Haste, who in 2012 fatally shot 18-year-old Ramarley Graham as he reached into his waistband. Mr. Haste’s colleagues on a street narcotics team had radioed that they saw Mr. Graham with a gun. They were mistaken; he was unarmed. Mr. Haste resigned March 26 rather than be fired, the NYPD announced.
PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement March 27, “After two leaks in the span of a week, it is clear that CCRB isn’t interested in obeying the law and protecting police officers’ confidential personnel records. And why would they be? The unfounded and exonerated allegations contained in this latest leak only serve to further the organization’s anti-cop aims.
“CCRB claims to promote accountability for police officers but won’t hold itself to the same standard. This is exactly why there needs to be a criminal investigation and prosecution for all of the parties responsible for these leaks.”
The CCRB confirmed that the documents published by ThinkProgress were authentic, but did not comment further on their contents.
After the first leak, Mr. Lynch sent a letter March 24 to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Commissioner of Investigation Mark G. Peters demanding that they investigate. Both agencies declined to comment on the letter.
‘Release Was Illegal’
“This leak of police personnel records is a violation of Section 50-a, Section 2604(b)(4), and potentially other laws,” Mr. Lynch wrote. “Simply, the release of police personnel records in such a manner by the CCRB is prohibited and illegal.”
Section 50-a of the state Human Rights Law requires that personnel records involving the discipline of police officers and certain other categories of public employees be kept secret unless released by court order.
The law was passed in 1976 at the urging of police unions concerned about attorneys who sued police departments riffling through personnel files in search of information they could use to impeach police witnesses.
The NYPD said it realized last year that it had been ignoring the law and took steps to comply with it. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said before his retirement last September that the law would prohibit any announcement of the results of the NYPD disciplinary trial Mr. Pantaleo was facing. “Would it eventually get out?” he said. “Probably, but we would not be issuing a press statement to that effect.”
Mayor de Blasio has been criticized for what some police-reform advocates call an overly strict interpretation of the law. He has called for the State Legislature to change it but said the city must follow it until that happens.
Pantaleo’s Rap Sheet
The March 21 documents showed that Mr. Pantaleo had 14 CCRB complaints filed against him during the five-year period preceding Mr. Garner’s death. The agency substantiated four of the complaints, which arose from two separate incidents.
The March 28 document listed 10 allegations made against Officer Haste in 2009 and 2010. The CCRB attempted mediation in four of them, four more were found unsubstantiated or unfounded, the victim in one was uncooperative and Mr. Haste was exonerated in one more.
No allegations were listed for four of the complaints. Two involved force (one physical, one pepper-spray), three involved discourtesy and one involved “abuse—frisk.”
ThinkProgress said the source of the documents was an anonymous employee (March 21) and then an anonymous former employee (March 28). CCRB officials said a junior employee had been identified as the leaker, who resigned under pressure. Once fired, that ex-employee was also the source of the second leak.
‘Swift and Thorough Probe’
“A swift and thorough investigation resulted in the identification of the individual who leaked those confidential documents and their departure from the agency,” said Jerika Richardson, senior adviser and secretary to the board.
Mr. Lynch asked that in addition to investigating the CCRB source, “we request that the DOI conduct an investigation into the security methods and processes at the CCRB…
“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.”
A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Mr. Pantaleo 4½ months after Mr. Garner’s death. A bystander’s video showed Officer Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck after he refused to cooperate with a new arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, insisting he had done nothing wrong.
Some observers believed they saw Mr. Pantaleo using a chokehold, which is legal but banned under NYPD rules. The officer denied using such a hold.
Pantaleo on Desk Duty
A Federal civil-rights investigation into Mr. Garner’s death, which kicked in after the grand-jury decision, is apparently proceeding under the Trump Administration. Any NYPD disciplinary action against Mr. Pantaleo, who has been on modified duty since the death, is on hold until the conclusion of the Federal probe.
Mr. Haste followed Mr. Graham in 2012 from a Bronx bodega known as a spot for narcotics sales. The officer pursued Mr. Graham into his grandmother’s apartment and, when he refused to give up, shot him.
The NYPD found the shooting permissible but faulted Mr. Haste’s tactics in the period leading up to it. After an administrative proceeding, Assistant Commissioner for Trials Rosemarie Maldonado found him guilty of tactical violations and recommended that he be fired. Mr. O’Neill was prepared to follow her recommendation at the time that Mr. Haste resigned.