Report: NYPD Commissioner Repeatedly Refused To Discipline Officers For Chokeholds

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton CREDIT: AP
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton CREDIT: AP

A new report from the New York City Department of Investigation found discrepancies in “determining how and when [NYPD] officers should be held accountable for using chokeholds.” The report, which was spurred by Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s deadly chokehold of Eric Garner, also concluded that recommended disciplinary actions for officers who used chokeholds were routinely ignored by the Police Commissioner.  Chokeholds are illegal use of force tactics, as stipulated in Section 203–11 of the Patrol Guide. However, a close examination of 10 chokehold cases between 2009 and 2014 found that disciplinary measures were not consistent. The incongruity is due, in large part, to how two separate investigative units define and review the cases. One group, the CCRB, relied on substantive evidence to determine whether or not an officer “interfered” with breathing. But a second agency, the DAO, used a more broad body of evidence, including an officer’s personal history, and a more specific definition of a chokehold to determine if disciplinary action was warranted.

Additionally, in six chokehold cases reviewed by the Police Commissioner, the Commissioner instituted less strict penalties than the recommended by the CCRB or DAO. The Commissioner also refrained from penalizing officers in two of the six cases he reviewed.

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In one incident, in which the Police Commissioner refused to penalize a school safety officer, the officer in question slammed a 19-year-old female high school student against a wall and grabbed her neck for three to four seconds. The officer was initially called to prevent the student from walking away from school officials, who were attempting to discipline her. The incident was caught on video, and the CCRB verified that a chokehold was used. Both the CCRB and DAO recommended penalties for the officer.

In another noteworthy case, a 15-year-hold suspect was handcuffed to a bar when an officer wrapped his arms around the suspect’s neck and choked him. The suspect’s claim was verified by a Sergeant and another eyewitness, and the CCRB proposed Administrative Charges. But the Police Commissioner withheld punishment, per the DAO’s suggestion.

According to the report,

“While the Police Commissioner has full authority to depart from the disciplinary recommendations of CCRB, DAO, and the Deputy Commissioner of Trials, such decision-making must be grounded in reason and should not be arbitrary. However, it appears that in none of the six cases at issue did the Police Commissioner furnish any explanation for his disciplinary decisions, or more specifically, his reasons for rejecting and undercutting the disciplinary recommendations of CCRB . Instead, the Police Commissioner communicated final disciplinary decisions via a cursory “Endorsement”form which provided a boilerplate explanation for the departure.”

The investigation comes on the heels of discontent between the NYPD and the public, and tension between officers and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Protesters against excessive police force and misconduct have taken to the streets since early December. Meanwhile, police enraged by perceived slights from Bill de Blasio have substantially cut back on their policing duties. As a result, the number of arrests over the last two weeks have plummeted in the last two weeks, as have the number of criminal summonses.