Will NYPD Punish Daniel Pantaleo For Eric Garner's Death? The Officer Isn't Off The Hook
As protests continue in Ferguson, Missouri, an eerily similar situation unfolded in New York City. On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, for the death of Eric Garner, an African-American man. Garner died on July 17 after Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold, which is banned under NYPD guidelines. But even though the grand jury decided to clear Pantaleo, he may not be entirely off the hook.
The grand jury's "no true bill" decision means Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran, won't be facing criminal charges for Garner's death (although there were several police officers involved in the July 17 incident, Pantaleo was the only one with pending criminal charges). However, the 29-year-old cop can expect some staggering repercussions, including losing his spot on the police force for good.
Pantaleo was already stripped of his badge and gun shortly after Garner's death, and has been on desk duty since late July. But Pantaleo's fate as a police officer is uncertain, as the NYPD can choose to discipline the eight-year veteran for publicly disgracing the department.
Even NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said in a press conference on Wednesday that he's unsure when Pantaleo will return to the police force. As commissioner, Bratton has the sole power of punishing Pantaleo, whether it's barring him from a gun or firing him altogether. For now, Pantaleo will remain on suspension while an internal NYPD investigation is pending, Bratton said.
How likely is it that Pantaleo will receive his badge and return to the police force? According to law enforcement experts, there's a good chance he'll never serve as a full-fledged officer again — or, at least, for many, many years. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, told Staten Island Live in a recent interview that the NYPD may choose to discipline Pantaleo and "use him as a political pawn" to show they take excessive use of force seriously.
Believe it or not, the NYPD has done this in the past, even after officers were cleared by a grand jury or acquitted of criminal charges. In April, an NYPD detective Hassan Hamdy, who fatally wounded an unarmed National Guardsman at a traffic stop, received an internal, departmental charge for the man's death, even though Hamdy was cleared by a Queens grand jury in 2013. The city also agreed to pay a $2.5 million-dollar settlement to the victim's family.
Staten Island Live also cites a 2008 case where three NYPD detectives were acquitted of killing Sean Bell outside a strip club in Jamaica, Queens. Following an administrative trial, NYPD fired one of the detectives in 2012, and forced the other two detectives to resign.
Not only does the NYPD have a history of firing police officers involved in suspicious deaths, but it turns out Pantaleo also has quite a history of police violations. According to New York, Pantaleo has been twice sued for civil rights violations, brought by people he arrested. In one case, Pantaleo was accused of strip-searching two men in broad daylight, claiming they were in possession of heroin. The city settled with the victims, compensating them $30,000. In a separate case, a man alleged Pantaleo arrested him even though he was "committing no crime at that time and was not acting in a suspicious manner.
Given Pantaleo's already tarnished history with the NYPD, it's not so hard to believe the 29-year-old Staten Island resident may be hit with departmental charges for Garner's death. However, if there's one thing Pantaleo has going for him, it's the fact that he's unequivocally supported by the police union. Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, released a statement on Wednesday clearing Pantaleo of any wrongdoing.
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