Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said it is a “reasonable” assumption that he will decide Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s fate with the NYPD by the end of the month, but pointedly declined to speculate on Tuesday on what that would be.
“I can’t be pulled in either direction. This a job for the Police Commissioner. I have to make decisions,” he said during the NYPD’s monthly crime briefing at Police Headquarters Tuesday morning. “This one’s an important one. I just have to look at the testimony and the evidence, and come to a fair decision.”
Mr. O’Neill, who has the final say over whether Mr. Pantaleo stays with the department, will among other evidence consider NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado’s 45-page determination, which she issued only to Mr. Pantaleo’s attorney and to the Civilian Complaint Review Board last week, that the Officer was reckless during his July 17, 2014 confrontation with Eric Garner.
Mr. Panteleo’s attorney, Stuart London, did not rule out that his client could submit his resignation before the Commissioner issued his decision—provided Mr. O’Neill agreed to let him leave the service with whatever pension benefits he had accrued over his 13-year NYPD tenure.
“We consider every option,” he replied when asked about that possible scenario during a Tuesday afternoon phone interview.
For now, he is drafting a response to Judge Maldonado’s finding that, according to a brief synopsis provided by Mr. London, Officer Pantaleo was guilty of third-degree assault and had been “reckless” during the confrontation with Mr. Garner.
Judge Maldonado presided over the Officer’s late-spring trial on administrative charges, during which he was alleged to have used a department-prohibited chokehold that the city’s Medical Examiner found precipitated Mr. Garner’s death shortly after Mr. Pantaleo tried to arrest him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island’s Tompkinsville neighborhood.
“We’re going to address a couple of issues,” Mr. London said, one being the penalty she suggested was applicable, which Mr. London said was beyond what is appropriate given precedent following similar convictions.
“The penalty is draconian and excessive,” he said.
Mr. London said he would also rebut what he called Ms. Maldonado’s faulty reasoning for the conclusion that his client was reckless.
The attorney said that while the Judge concluded that Officer Pantaleo acted reasonably at the start of his and his police partner’s engagement with Mr. Garner and at its conclusion, her determination that his actions for roughly seven seconds midway through the confrontation—when he took down Mr. Garner from behind—were “reckless” is flawed.
“You really can’t have it that way—you’re either reasonable or you’re not,” Mr. London said.
‘Surgically Carving Out’
“She’s surgically carving out” three to seven seconds of action during what was a fluid and volatile incident, “and our position is that’s arbitrary and capricious,” he said.
During his trial defense, Mr. London argued that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold but employed a department-sanctioned seat-belt technique to subdue Mr. Garner.
“I think a lot of our argument is going to be that it’s not a gross deviation from what a reasonable police officer would have done,” Mr. London said of Mr. Pantaleo’s takedown, during which he and Mr. Garner briefly pressed against a shop’s plate-glass window.
“He was just trying to maintain control,” he said. “The optics of his arm around his neck...is basically what the decision focuses on. My position is that when the Officer realizes that he has Mr. Garner in a compromised position is when he eased up.”
‘Now Is Not the Time’
Addressing Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch’s contention that the Commissioner would “freeze” the department if he fires Officer Pantaleo, Mr. O’Neill said he had no indication that would be the case.
He cited several gun arrests over the weekend as well an early-Tuesday-morning incident within the 120th Precinct—the Staten Island command to which Officer Pantaleo had been assigned—during which officers were shot at during a car chase but concluded with probable-cause arrests of suspects as indications that cops would continue policing.
“Now is not the time to be divisive,” Commissioner O’Neill said. "Now is not the time to question the confidence of NYPD officers...I have nothing but pride in the great work they do each and every day, and I know they’re going to do their best to continue to keep the city safe.”