If, as seems likely, the pro-law enforcement Trump administration does not pursue federal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, all eyes will turn to the NYPD.
That means a departmental trial in which his conviction and dismissal from the force seem preordained given the outcry over the case by several city officials and scores of New Yorkers.
Pantaleo, who has been on modified assignment since Garner’s death in 2104, might be best off forgoing a trial and seeking a vested retirement. That would allow him to keep his pension.
But such a move requires the permission of Commissioner James O’Neill. His predecessor, Bill Bratton, granted permission to two high-ranking officers who were later indicted by the feds in an NYPD corruption probe. That case is pending.
Whether O’Neill would go along in Pantaleo’s case, with its racial overtones — Pantaleo is white and Garner was black — is unclear. It is also unclear whether Mayor Bill de Blasio would let him. He is up for re-election and needs the support of black New Yorkers.
For two years, many black politicians have shouted for Pantaleo’s scalp. As former Gov. David Paterson said after Garner’s death, “We will not stop until someone goes to jail.” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn said, “The only way we will be satisfied is if the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner will be convicted and sent upstate.”
After Sgt. Hugh Barry fatally shot an emotionally disturbed black woman in the Bronx who police say charged at him with a baseball bat on Oct. 20, O’Neill suspended him before an internal investigation was complete, saying Barry, who is white, had not followed procedure by failing to first use his Taser. The mayor stood by, cheering O’Neill on. The Bronx district attorney said Monday she will ask for a grand jury investigation of the death.
A harbinger of Pantaleo’s fate may come shortly in a racially charged 2012 shooting when Officer Richard Haste comes up for his departmental trial. The trial date is to be set this week.
Haste, who was not indicted, fatally shot Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teen, in his Bronx apartment after he tried to arrest him on marijuana charges. As Haste, who is white, pursued him, he heard a call over the police radio that Graham had a gun. No weapon was recovered.