Get a link in your mailbox to your weekly NYPD Confidential column as soon as it is published! Click on the button above right on this page — or here — to sign up for this feature.
December 5, 2016
If, as seems likely, the pro-law enforcement Trump administration does not pursue federal charges against police officer Michael Pantaleo for the "chokehold" death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, all eyes will turn to the NYPD.
A 10-year veteran, who has been on modified assignment since Garner's death in 2104, Pantaleo might be best off forgoing a trial and seeking what is known as a vested retirement. That would allow him to keep his pension.
However, such a move, requires the permission of Police Commissioner James O'Neill. O'Neill's predecessor, Bill Bratton, granted permission to Deputy Chief Michael Harrington and Deputy Inspector James Grant, both of whom have been indicted by the feds in the NYPD's corruption probe.
Whether O'Neill would go along in Pantaleo's case, with its racial overtones [Pantaleo is white. Garner was black.] remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether Mayor de Blasio would let him. The mayor is up for re-election and needs the support of black New Yorkers.
For the past two years, many black politicians have been shouting for Pantaleo's scalp. As former governor David Paterson said shortly after Garner's death, "We will not stop until someone goes to jail." Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries echoed: "The only way we will be satisfied is if the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner will be convicted and sent upstate."
In his short tenure as police commissioner, the mayor has embraced O'Neill in a bear-hug. After Sgt. Hugh Barry fatally shot an emotionally disturbed black woman who police say attacked him with a baseball bat, O'Neill suspended him before the department's internal investigation was complete. He said Barry had not followed procedure by failing to first use his Taser. The mayor cheered him on. He said the woman "should be alive now period."
A harbinger of Pantaleo's fate may be revealed shortly in another racially charged shooting when police officer Richard Haste comes up for his departmental trial. His trial date is to be set this week.
Haste, who was not indicted on federal charges, fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in his apartment after he attempted to arrest him on marijuana charges. As Haste, who is white, pursued him, he heard a call over the police radio that the kid had a gun. No gun was recovered.
MORE PANTALEO POLITICS. Pantaleo politics is hardly confined to the NYPD. Moments after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges, the borough's district attorney, Dan Donovan, resigned and skipped off to Washington as a congressman.
A few weeks ago, Jeffries and Al Sharpton's man, Kirsten Foy, held a news conference outside Police Plaza and blasted the department for allowing Pantaleo to accumulate overtime while failing to bring him to trial. They did not mention former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who allowed the federal civil rights case against him to molder for over a year. Nor did they mention U.S. Attorney Robert Capers and his predecessor, Loretta Lynch, both of whom seemed disinclined to indict Pantaleo on federal charges.
More recently, Lynch, who succeeded Holder as Attorney General, removed the case from Capers and appointed new Washington prosecutors to pursue it. If that's not politics, what is?
CIVIL RIGHTS CHARGES? At least for this reporter, it is difficult to understand the criteria for civil rights charges. Each case seems to have different rules. Contrast Pantaleo's "chokehold" case with that of police officer Francis Livoti, whose chokehold led to the death of Anthony Baez in 1994. After a Bronx judge acquitted him of criminal charges, the feds convicted him of civil rights charges.
Unlike Pantaleo, he instigated the Baez incident. He was angered that the Baez brothers' football had struck his patrol car as he sat outside their home in the Bronx in the middle of the night. God know why he was there in the first place.
Yet the reasons the feds began their civil rights investigation had nothing to do with either of these things. Their investigation stemmed from remarks the Bronx judge had made in his acquittal - that there was "a nest of perjury" in the case. The implication was that a cabal of fellow cops covered up for Livoti.
Months later the judge - who happens to be the husband of TV's Judge Judy - clarified his remarks, saying he was referring to another police officer, who, he said, lied when she testified against Livoti.
MARZULLI. John Marzulli, the Daily News' veteran crime and courts reporter, is leaving the paper after 31 years to become the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District. His departure is a loss for the News and win for the U.S. Attorney's office.