Accountability must be demanded when, “Justice delayed is Justice denied.”

It took more than five years for an NYPD administrative finding to be made holding Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo accountable for Eric Garner’s July 17, 2014, death.

This delay is shocking to the conscience.

Who is accountable for this foot-dragging?

They are: former Police Commissioner William Bratton, present Commissioner James O’Neill, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Why should they be held accountable?

Simply, they failed, without justification, making an expeditious decision concerning Garner’s death when there was overwhelming evidence, including a videotape of the Garner-police confrontation, the City Medical Examiner’s determination that death was by “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

With these facts at hand, Bratton, as Commissioner, responsible for police discipline, could have immediately suspended Pantaleo for 30 days and commenced a departmental trial soon thereafter.

Bratton, inexplicably took no action, although he immediately recognized Pantaleo violated NYPD’s rules, publicly stating, “As defined in the department’s patrol guide, (Pantaleo’s force) would appear to have been a chokehold.”

In September 2016, more than two years after Garner’s death, while Pantaleo received his salary and accumulated pension time, Bratton resigned, leaving Mayor de Blasio’s newly appointed Police Commissioner James O’Neill in charge of the Pantaleo case and the Garner family’s hopes of justice up in the air.

Even if Bratton and O’Neill believed Garner was illegally selling loose cigarettes, a minor offense, both Commissioners abdicated their statutory obligation to timely determine whether Pantaleo used a prohibited chokehold to subdue Garner and whether Pantaleo should continue as a police officer.

Instead, both Commissioners dithered, hiding behind the Federal Government.

From July 2014 to September 2015, when Lynch was the local U.S. Attorney before becoming the Attorney General, no decision was forthcoming as to whether any criminal charges would be filed, or asking the NYPD not to conduct an internal investigation of Garner’s death.

The Garner family’s continued agony was further compounded in 2016, when Lynch superseded U.S. Attorney Robert Capers, her local successor, directing the Justice Department to take over the Pantaleo/Garner matter.

Without explanation, in 2017, before Lynch left office with the Trump administration’s arrival, no prosecutorial decision was made. Apparently, the outgoing attitude was, “let the next administration handle it.”

The Trump Administration certainly did.

In July 2018, four years after Garner died, the NYPD received permission from the Justice Department to conduct an internal investigation of Pantaleo while the Trump Attorney General slowly deliberated. It was on July 16, 2019—the day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death—when the local U.S. Attorney grimly notified the Garner family there would be no Federal case.

During 2014-2018 there is little doubt that Bratton and then O’Neill abdicated their responsibility by slow-walking Pantaleo’s disciplinary case, hoping that Federal prosecutors would take them off the hook with a criminal case, thereby avoiding a controversial high-profile NYPD decision.

Even with no objection by the Justice Department to investigating Pantaleo, it was the Civilian Complaint Review Board filing disciplinary charges—not the NYPD’s Department Advocate, who primarily prosecutes police misconduct.

If the CCRB did not take the lead, would Pantaleo have had a hearing, knowing other officers involved in Garner’s death still have not been prosecuted for any misconduct?

But responsibility for this delayed justice and drawn-out process does not rest just with law enforcement alone. De Blasio must be held accountable as well.

De Blasio, as he runs for President, is astonishingly taking credit for NYPD’s delayed disciplinary process—“[T]oday we finally saw a step towards justice and accountability”—and blaming the Federal Government for the five-year delay. But it was the Mayor—reinventing history—who evaded his responsibility by failing to instruct Bratton and then O’Neill to conduct an investigation and hearing much earlier than 2018.

There is really not much that can be done to hold indecisive public servants accountable for this delay and the Garner family’s enduring pain after all these years. I strongly urge the public and the media to question Bratton, O’Neill, Lynch and de Blasio until they provide a satisfactory answer as to why it took five years for this national tragedy to end.

Arnold N. Kriss is a former NYPD Deputy Commissioner, trials and Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney. He is a lawyer in private practice in Manhattan. akriss@lawkriss.com


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