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72° Good Morning
OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Politics infects two police brutality cases

Members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF and other

Members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF and other agencies investigate a scene. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / BRYAN R. SMITH

Even without Donald Trump, developments last week on two pending NYPD cases reflect the divisiveness of race and politics in NYC.

Let’s start with the police department trial of Richard Haste, a white cop who in 2012 fatally shot black teen Ramarley Graham in the bathroom of his Bronx apartment, mistakenly believing Graham had a gun.

Bronx grand jurors did not indict Haste in 2013 after an initial indictment was thrown out. Federal prosecutors did not seek an indictment against Haste.

At trial, NYPD advocate Beth Douglas called for the dismissal of Haste, who is charged with exercising “poor tactical judgment.” The word at 1 Police Plaza is that Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Haste dismissed. That suggests Commissioner James O’Neill, who has final say, will follow the mayor’s lead as he has since being appointed in September. If that’s the case, the trial is theater, meant to gull the public into believing there’s a semblance of objectivity within the NYPD.

NYPD Deputy Trials Commissioner Rosemarie Maldonado, who is presiding, could make it easier for O’Neill by finding Haste guilty and recommending his firing. That way O’Neill can say he’s following the judge’s recommendation.

But if Maldonado recommends a lesser penalty, O’Neill can overrule her. That’s rare, but there is precedent. So, what of the political calculus that may determine what happens to Haste?

The other case comes from federal court in Brooklyn. In the final days of the Obama administration, Justice Department prosecutors reconvened a dormant grand jury on Wednesday to hear two cop witnesses testify against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island nearly three years ago.

As in Haste’s case, grand jurors in Staten Island did not indict Pantaleo. Since then, the feds have been weighing an indictment on civil rights charges. Although Brooklyn-based federal prosecutors under then-U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch apparently felt no case could be made, Lynch, who subsequently became U.S. attorney general, recently reassigned the case to civil rights prosecutors in Washington, an indication that a political decision was made to seek an indictment.

How else to explain this last-minute end run to Brooklyn, planting a racial roadside bomb for Lynch’s successor to defuse?


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