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Due Process for Pantaleo?
July 22, 2019
In perhaps his finest hour as mayor, Bill de Blasio is resisting demands from his political soul mates that he immediately fire NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner.
This is not to say that Pantaleo won’t be fired. The odds that he will be range from 99 to 99.9 percent. But, to de Blasio’s credit, he maintained last week that Pantaleo, like all citizens, deserves “due process.”
Calls for Pantaleo’s firing — which began after Garner’s “I can’t breathe,” last words were captured on cell phone video five years ago — escalated last week after the feds announced they would not pursue civil rights charges against Pantaleo. In typical fed fashion, oblivious to the pain and harm their delay has caused, their announcement came on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death as the statute of limitations expired.
Five years of tension between Eastern District prosecutors versus Justice Department civil rights attorneys in Washington made it apparent that the feds were going to punt. Indeed, indictments of police officers on civil rights violations are rarer than rare. Two decades ago, the Justice Department of President Bill Clinton didn’t indict the four NYPD cops who fatally shot Amadou Diallo as he stood the lobby of his Bronx apartment building. Why then would President Trump’s Justice Department indict Pantaleo?
At a demonstration at City Hall the day of the Justice Department’s announcement, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a potential mayoral candidate, said it was “an outrage that Pantaleo has not been fired.” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, also a potential mayoral candidate, said Pantaleo “should have been fired months ago, if not years ago.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that firing Pantaleo was not an issue of “process” — i.e., civil rights — but about ending “broken windows,” the get-tough policing policy begun by Bill Bratton under Rudy Giuliani 25 years ago, when annual homicides in NYC were above 2,000.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams then took aim at de Blasio, who is a 2020 presidential candidate. “You cannot be president, you cannot be the Democratic nominee, if Daniel Pantaleo is still on the force,” he said.
For the past three years — ever since he publicly criticized a sergeant for fatally shooting a mentally disturbed woman (the sergeant was acquitted) — the mayor has largely kept his nose out of police business.
His restraint does not mask his misgivings of the police, as evidenced by his “talk” with son Dante. As Dante put it in an op-ed piece on how to act when confronted by cops, which the mayor reprised for his current presidential campaign: “Be extra polite … Don’t try to be funny or casual. What to avoid — sudden movements, back talking, reaching for anything … without telling the officer what you’re about to do.”
Apparently, no one had such a talk with Garner, who at the time of his confrontation with Pantaleo had 29 prior arrests, albeit for minor crimes. Furthermore, as described by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Richard Donoghue in announcing the feds would not indict Pantaleo, Garner resisted when Pantaleo attempted to arrest him for selling “loosey” cigarettes after complaints by neighborhood merchants and orders from high on in the department.
As for Pantaleo’s due process, this now begins with a recommendation from NYPD Trial Commissioner Rosemarie Maldonado, who presided over his department trial, which concluded in May. Police Commissioner Jim O’Neill will make the ultimate decision on whether to fire him.
What role the mayor may play remains unclear. Two decades ago, when the department fired police officer Francis X. Livoti after he was acquitted by a Bronx judge of causing the death of Anthony Baez and before the feds indicted him for civil rights violations, Giuliani’s police commissioner Howard Safir did the dirty work.
Copyright © 2019 Leonard Levitt