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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Count on the feds at your own risk

Marvin Day, of Jackson Heights, holds up a

Marvin Day, of Jackson Heights, holds up a large bus on Seventh Avenue in Times Square on Dec. 4, 2014 in protests over the death of Eric Garner. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Some politicians, journalists and general loudmouths called for federal intervention in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner now that a Staten Island grand jury failed to bring an indictment against police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Stated criteria for federal intervention in police-related deaths is the willful violation of civil rights, which involves excessive police action. Because "willful" and "excessive" are subjective, such intervention can be arbitrary, subject as much to politics as to law.

The feds chose not to intervene after grand juries failed to indict cops in the shooting deaths of Timothy Stansbury on a Brooklyn rooftop in 2004 and Ramarley Graham in his Bronx apartment in 2012. Both were unarmed. Nor did the feds intervene after the cops who shot and killed Sean Bell after his bachelor party in 2006 were acquitted by a Queens judge. Bell, too, was unarmed.

In perhaps the NYPD's most egregious violation of a victim's civil rights, police fired 41 bullets, killing Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant as he stood in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building in 1999. He, too, was unarmed. The cops were acquitted. The feds chose not to intervene.

In NYC, the feds have intervened in only one recent case that involved a cop. That case involved a chokehold. The defendant, Officer Francis Livoti, used it in 1994 on Anthony Baez in the Bronx -- like Garner, an overweight asthmatic -- which led to his death. The feds convicted Livoti of violating Baez's civil rights.

Then there was the case of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, sodomized by a cop with a broomstick in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct in 1997. In that case, the feds took over early from then-Brooklyn DA Joseph Hynes with his acquiescence. Hynes said it would be easier to convict the cop in federal court. Two police officers went to prison on various charges.

Along with calls for federal intervention, there have been calls for a special prosecutor to replace Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson in the case of Akai Gurley, who was fatally shot by a cop in a housing project last month. Ask yourself: Would anyone want to replace Thompson, who has said he will call a grand jury to examine Gurley's death?

The feds have agreed to investigate whether police violated Garner's civil rights. But don't be fooled. The feds are no panacea.


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