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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Awaiting O'Neill's decision

NYPD commissioner must decide whether to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Commissioner James O'Neill attends a hearing on the

Commissioner James O'Neill attends a hearing on the NYPD budget and public safety in the City Council chamber at City Hall on May 15, 2019. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Last summer, NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller hosted a party at his summer place on Long Island. Commissioner James O’Neill attended. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton — who would have turned up with an entourage that included at least a couple of bodyguards — O’Neill arrived on his motorcycle with his motorcycling cop buddy.

Unlike Kelly and Bratton, O’Neill is a modest guy. His dilemma is that his boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, distrusts the police and is distrusted by them.

As early as maybe even this week, O’Neill will make a decision that is as fraught with danger as any that Bratton or Kelly ever made. O’Neill has to decide whether to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in 2014.

The stakes are enormous. On one side is the fear of civil unrest, as threatened by progressive activists and Garner’s family (with the Rev. Al Sharpton in the background). On the other is the possibility that, as PBA president Pat Lynch put it, O’Neill could “lose the department.”

Still, there have been more clear-cut actions by cops that resulted in the deaths of unarmed civilians than Pantaleo’s.

  • Timothy Stansbury was fatally shot in 2004 by Officer Richard Neri, who had his gun drawn as he patrolled the rooftop of Stansbury’s Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment.
  • Ramarley Graham was fatally shot in 2012 by Officer Richard Haste, who chased Graham into his Bronx apartment thinking Graham had a gun. He did not.
  • Amadou Diallo was fatally shot in 1999 by four cops as he stood innocently in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building.

A Brooklyn grand jury chose not to indict Neri. After he was found guilty of failing to secure his weapon at a departmental trial, he was suspended for 30 days. After a Bronx grand jury did not indict Haste, he resigned after he was found guilty at a departmental trial and before O’Neill could fire him. The Diallo cops were acquitted by an Albany jury and were never charged departmentally.

O’Neill was helped last week when NYPD’s deputy commissioner for trials, Rosemarie Maldonado, recommended the department fire Pantaleo. This gives O’Neill cover if, as seems virtually certain, he dismisses Pantaleo. O’Neill can claim he merely followed Maldonado’s recommendation, despite having the authority to overrule her.

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