Chief-Leader

September 14, 2017


Garner Cop’s Lawyer: Never Called by CCRB

Calls Chokehold Finding Prejudicial

By MARK TOOR

STUART LONDON: Calls CCRB ruling ‘political.’
PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘More evidence of anti-cop agenda.’
AL SHARPTON: Prods Feds to reach conclusion

The attorney representing NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo said he was surprised by the decision of the Civilian Complaint Review Board to substantiate complaints that his client had used a department-banned chokehold in subduing Eric Garner and restricting his breathing during their fatal encounter 38 months ago.

“I heard the department was in a stand-down mode until the Federal investigation is complete,” the attorney, Stuart London, told THE CHIEF-LEADER last week, referring to the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice probe into whether Mr. Pantaleo had violated Mr. Garner’s civil rights when he wrestled the petty criminal to the ground in July 2014.

Wasn’t Asked to Testify

The CCRB “never spoke to my client or called down any police-officer witnesses,” Mr. London said. “They never contacted me.” Mr. Pantaleo was not invited to testify, he said.

“I believe it’s purely political as opposed to something consistent with what the CCRB actually does,” he continued. He was not even certain that the agency did a complete investigation.

“It’s prejudicial at a time when we’re waiting for the Federal Government to make a decision,” he said. “It’s not fair to my client.”

The CCRB, which investigates allegations of excessive force, sent letters to lawyers for the Garner family and the NYPD informing them of the decision, sources said earlier this month. The CCRB is recommending an administrative trial for Mr. Pantaleo. The agency did not comment.

PBA Also Hits CCRB

The de Blasio administration has said that both the CCRB and the Police Department are bound by state law restricting the release of information about the discipline of police officers. Initial news reports of the decision were attributed to sources.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, joined Mr. London in attacking the CCRB. “How many illegal leaks will it take before the city’s leaders do something, anything, to rein in the biased and grossly unprofessional CCRB?” he said in a statement.

“The CCRB has routinely demonstrated that its sole aim is to advance a politicized anti-cop agenda, which is why it is not surprising that this most recent leak occurred in the height of election season,” he cointued. “This is further evidence that the CCRB is only confidential when it is convenient for them and their anti-police allies. The conduct of this supposedly independent body becomes more disturbing and destructive by the day.”

This spring, the CCRB was criticized after leaks of the confidential complaint histories of Mr. Pantaleo and Officer Richard Haste, who five years ago fatally shot an 18-year-old in The Bronx after fellow officers incorrectly told him the youth had a gun. The leaks were attributed to a low-level employee who was forced to resign.

NYPD Waiting on ‘Justice’

“The NYPD is aware that the Executive Board of CCRB has elected to move forward with their findings and recommendations pertaining to the actions of Officer Pantaleo,” the Police Department said in a statement. “The New York City Police Department will not proceed with any internal disciplinary proceedings, at the request of the Department of Justice and due to their ongoing investigation.”

A spokesman for Mayor de Blasio, Austin Finan, said, “The death of Eric Garner was tragic, and the investigative process has been understandably painful and trying for his family and loved ones. Still, the Mayor has consistently said the Administration will respect the Department of Justice’s request and afford it time to complete its investigation. If it should decline to bring charges against Officer Pantaleo, the NYPD is prepared to pursue departmental charges.”

The Garner family, which had notified the city it would file a wrongful-death suit for $75 million, was awarded $5.9 million in December 2014. The settlement was ordered by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has sole discretion to settle major civil-rights claims. He made the decision at a time when feelings about the case were running high because a Staten Island grand jury had just declined to indict Mr. Pantaleo.

Confronted About ‘Loosies’

The officer has been on modified duty, stripped of his badge and gun and performing clerical work, since his encounter with Mr. Garner. He and other plainclothes officers from the 120th Pre­cinct sought to arrest him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

Mr. Garner had been arrested 30 times, but resisted collar No. 31, saying he was doing nothing wrong and refusing to cooperate with the officers. Mr. Pantaleo wrapped an arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, forcing him to the ground, as he repeatedly moaned, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

He lay on the ground, basically untreated by paramedics called to the scene, until he was transported to a hospital emergency room, where he was pronounced dead about an hour after the takedown.

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner determined that Mr. Garner, who weighed nearly 400 pounds, had died of a combination of rough handling by police, including a chokehold and being placed in a position that could have caused difficulty with breathing, and pre-existing health problems such as asthma and high blood pressure.

Chokehold Controversy

Many viewers of a cell-phone video of the arrest ta­ken by a bystander believed they saw Officer Pantaleo using a chokehold to kill an unarmed black man—echoing a theme that had triggered protests around the country. NYPD rules prohibit the use of chokeholds.

The Police Commissioner at the time, William J. Bratton, conceded that it looked like a chokehold but added that an investigation would be needed to determine wheth­er it actually was one.

The PBA and the Ser­geants Benevolent Association said Mr. Pantaleo did not use a chokehold. Mr. London said after the grand-jury decision that his client had testified that another hold, one taught in the Police Academy, was used. Federal prosecutors working on the civil-rights probe in Brooklyn and Washington reportedly could not agree on whether one had been employed.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, an adviser to the Garner family, said the CCRB decision should encourage Federal investigators to finish the civil-rights investigation. “We have been waiting on the Department of Justice for three years,” he said, adding, “the Federal Government has the basis to move now and go in and bring the Federal charg­es against this man.”