Ramsey Orta, the man who recorded video of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014, was sentenced to four years in prison this week on weapon and drug charges.
Orta’s sentencing brought courthouse protests and calls of #freeramsey from those who feel he’s been targeted by police — feeding continued outrage about the case that helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement.
That outrage was revisited last month after reports showed Pantaleo earned $23,220 in overtime pay from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, and $12,853 in “unspecified pay.” Pantaleo’s gross income was $119,996 — while on modified duty pending Justice Department and NYPD investigations. The reaction to Orta’s sentencing showcases the reverberations of this still-unresolved case.
On the pay issue, at least, the NYPD has scrambled quickly. The department promised greater scrutiny of overtime for officers on modified duty, including case-by-case approvals from the chief of department. Most important, the NYPD admitted that officers on modified duty should not earn overtime “except in those cases that are essential for the department to carry out its mission.”
New Commissioner James O’Neill called Pantaleo’s overtime “a policy deficiency.” O’Neill is right, and the quick policy change bodes well. Pantaleo’s overtime is especially troubling because it could count toward his pension.
And it’s not just Pantaleo. There are about 250 NYPD officers on modified duty, which is usually tied to a disciplinary action and often relegates officers to desk jobs and requires them to give up guns and badges. These officers haven’t been convicted of crimes, but have been reassigned pending investigations.
There are times when the department’s needs may require officers on modified duty to work overtime. But when an officer is under scrutiny, overtime work should be an exception. The NYPD should ensure that officers on modified duty don’t get the perks of the job.
That would be an obvious step to show the department has learned lessons since Garner’s death.