One Police Plaza

No Haste for Haste

March 14, 2016

The NYPD made a tentative offer to police officer Richard Haste — who fatally shot unarmed, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in the Bronx in 2012 — that would have allowed him to keep his job. But the department pulled back the offer the same day after checking “upstairs,” police sources told NYPD Confidential.

“Upstairs,” in police lingo, refers to the office of the police commissioner.

The offer, which the sources said “involved something less than dismissal,” was made about six months ago by the Department Advocate, the NYPD’s prosecutorial arm. The sources declined to specify of what the offer consisted.

It is unclear what the offer — and rescinding it — signifies. It may just be a department screw-up. But it may reflect the anti-cop climate the department faces in New York City and its apparent difficulty in resolving cases in which no criminal charges were brought against an officer whose actions led to the death of a civilian.

Haste shot Graham in the bathroom of his Bronx apartment, believing Graham had a gun. The officer was cleared of federal civil rights charges last week. In his decision, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara cited a radio transmission, stating, inaccurately, that Graham had a gun. Bharara said the government could not establish that Haste did not have a reasonable belief Graham was armed when he shot him.

A grand jury indicted Haste for manslaughter but a judge dismissed the charges, citing improper instructions from the Bronx District Attorney’s office. A year later, a second grand jury voted not to indict him. Bronx grand juries are not known for their sympathy towards police officers.

After the decision by Bharara’s office, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the police department’s disciplinary process would “proceed expeditiously.” Graham’s mother, Constance Malcolm, whose family was awarded $3.9 million by the city, called for the department to dismiss Haste. A half-dozen city councilpeople seconded her call. Ditto Al Sharpton.

Malcolm also called Police Commissioner Bill Bratton a “bald-faced liar” for saying the department had had to wait until state and federal officials finished their investigations of Haste before it could begin its own.

In virtually all such cases, the NYPD steps back and at the request of state and/or federal officials does not conduct its own investigation, which involves interviewing the officer under investigation. An exception occurred in the case of Francis Livoti, who two decades ago was acquitted by a Bronx judge in the death of Anthony Baez. While federal civil rights charges were pending, the department conducted its own investigation and fired him. A department official involved in that investigation explained that the department had moved to fire Livoti to block his police pension, which officials feared he would receive while in federal prison.]

However the department decides Haste’s case, it will not be an easy call. The department can cite his and his supervisor’s poor tactical decision to allow Haste to rush into Graham’s apartment rather than wait for backup. But, said a department official: “Does a tactical judgement warrant termination? It might be hard to fire someone, even for a wrongful death, when state and federal bodies found the officer not guilty.”

Haste isn’t the only NYPD cop currently on the hot seat. Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose actions led to the so-called “chokehold” death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014, is under investigation for possible civil rights violations by the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. A Staten Island grand jury previously declined to indict him. Whether the feds’ dropping of civil rights charges against Haste will affect their investigation of Pantaleo is unclear.

But if no charges are filed, the department will find itself in as difficult a situation with Pantaleo as it now faces with Haste.

Finally, there’s ex-cop Peter Liang, convicted of manslaughter in the death of Akai Gurley inside the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project. Liang accidentally fired his weapon. The bullet struck a wall and ricocheted, striking Gurley in the heart. The prosecution, however, maintained in closing arguments that Liang had fired deliberately, a claim Liang’s attorneys failed to protest at the time.

Liang has hired Paul Shectman, a former federal prosecutor with a distinguished resume, and Jack Chin, a California law professor, to conduct his appeal. Shectman says he will seek to have Liang’s conviction overturned this week for lack of sufficient evidence.

After Liang’s conviction, the NYPD fired him. That decision was a no-brainer. Conviction of a felony like manslaughter demands automatic dismissal.

Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt