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.
Still Waiting on O'Neill
August 19, 2019
Cops investigating crimes abhor a vacuum of information. It’s habit for them to figure out logical scenarios, which, logical as they may seem, could be dead wrong.
For the past few weeks, such scenarios concerning the fate of police officer Daniel Pantaleo have roiled Police Plaza. Seeming to emanate from the department’s highest levels, they reflect a groundswell of opposition to firing him — contrary to the recommendation of police trial judge Rosemarie Maldonado, who concluded that Pantaleo recklessly used a department-banned chokehold that led to the death of Eric Garner five years ago in Staten Island.
Scenario Number 1 is that Police Commissioner Jim O’Neill could override Maldonado’s recommendation. Instead, he would allow Pantaleo to resign immediately so that he can “vest” and save his pension, which the 13-year veteran can claim in seven years.
But this seemingly modest change to Maldonado’s recommendation will infuriate Garner’s family and swaths of community activists. To them, Pantaleo’s firing symbolizes police accountability. Should O’Neill decide anything less, they have threatened massive protests.
O’Neill's allowing Pantaleo to resign would also hammer the final nail into the coffin of Mayor de Blasio’s all-but-dead presidential candidacy. One of his campaign pledges has been “justice” for the Garner family, which sounds like an unspoken directive to O’Neill to fire Pantaleo.
Scenario Number 2 is that O’Neill submits his resignation and the mayor appoints First Deputy Ben Tucker to succeed him. Furthering Scenario 2’s credibility, Tucker on Friday formally accepted Maldonado’s recommendation without dissent and passed it up the chain of command to O’Neill.
A Scenario 2 corollary, unlikely as it seems, is that if O’Neill does resign, he will be joined by his two top people, Chief of Department Terence Monahan and Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea.
What would cause O’Neill to disregard de Blasio? In his nearly three years as commissioner, he has supported all the mayor’s feel-good police initiatives. His acceptance of key appointments by City Hall, such as Deputy Commissioners Phil Walzak and Ernest Hart, has allowed the mayor to try and wrap his hands around the department. And his muted response to the dousing of police officers in minority communities echoed that of de Blasio, disturbing high-ranking police officials, including Monahan.
Scenario Number 3 addresses this issue. Unlike his two predecessors Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton, who care mostly about their public personas, O’Neill cares mostly about his reputation within the law enforcement community. Firing Pantaleo could make him a pariah.
On the other hand, as we said, police abhor a vacuum of information. While it’s habit for them to figure out logical scenarios, those scenarios could be dead wrong.
Copyright © 2019 Leonard Levitt