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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Mayor right to push due process for Pantaleo

Calls for officer's firing escalated after the Justice Department announced it would not pursue civil rights charges in Eric Garner case.

Activists, including Gwen Carr, center, mother of Eric

Activists, including Gwen Carr, center, mother of Eric Garner gather and march in lower Manhattan on the anniversary of the chokehold death of Eric Garner Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in the wake of a decision by federal prosecutors who declined to bring civil rights charges against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, in the 2014 chokehold death of Garner.  Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Perhaps his finest hour as mayor, Bill de Blasio is pushing back against demands from his political soul mates that he immediately fire NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner.

This is not to say that Pantaleo won’t be fired. The odds that he will be dismissed range from 99 to 99.9 percent. But to de Blasio’s credit he maintained last week that Pantaleo deserves “due process” like all citizens.

Calls for Pantaleo’s firing escalated last week after the Justice Department announced it would not pursue civil rights charges against Pantaleo.

Five years of tension between Eastern District prosecutors and Justice Department civil rights attorneys in Washington made it obvious that the feds were going to punt. Indeed, indictments of police officers on civil rights violations are rare. In 1999 the Justice Department didn’t indict the four NYPD cops who fatally shot Amadou Diallo as he stood the lobby of his Bronx apartment building. Why then would the Justice Department indict Pantaleo?

At City Hall the day of the Justice Department’s announcement, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a potential mayoral candidate, called it “an outrage that Pantaleo has not been fired.” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, also a potential mayoral contender, said Pantaleo “should have been fired months ago, if not years ago.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that firing Pantaleo was not an issue of “process” — i.e., civil rights — but about ending “broken-windows” policing, the get-tough policy begun by Bill Bratton under Rudy Giuliani 25 years ago. It is unclear why one of the city’s most prominent civil rights organizations would ignore Pantaleo’s civil rights issue.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams then took aim at de Blasio, who is a 2020 presidential candidate. “You cannot be president, you cannot be the Democratic nominee if Daniel Pantaleo is still on the force,” he said.

Pantaleo’s due process now begins with a recommendation from Rosemarie Maldonado, NYPD’s deputy commissioner of trials, who presided over his departmental trial, which concluded in May. Police Commissioner James O’Neill, will make the final decision.

Ever since he criticized a sergeant for the 2016 fatal shooting of a mentally disturbed woman, the mayor has largely kept his nose out of police affairs. Let’s see whether that continues.


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