Today, in the disciplinary case against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, an administrative judge found him guilty on one of two counts relating to the death of Eric Garner in 2014. He was found guilty of using a chokehold that was banned by the NYPD at the time of the incident, but he was acquitted of intentionally obstructing Garner’s airway in the process. The verdict came with a recommendation that Pantaleo, who has been working administrative detail during the investigative processes, should be fired.
The now-infamous video taken by a bystander led to two criminal investigations of Pantaleo—one local, one federal—but in neither case were criminal charges brought. With those cases closed, the U.S. Department of Justice announcing just last month that they would not seek an indictment against Pantaleo, the administrative charges were the last open case against the officer.
However, the decision to terminate will ultimately rest with the NYPD commissioner, James O’Neill. The Police Benevolent Association—the police union—is staunchly defending Panteleo and openly threatening internal revolt if the Commissioner follows the judge’s recommendation. From the New York Times report:
On Friday, the city’s largest police union called the verdict “pure political insanity,” and said Mr. O’Neill should reject the judge’s recommendation to fire Officer Pantaleo.
“The only hope for justice now lies with Police Commissioner O’Neill,” said Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association. “He knows that if he affirms this horrendous decision, he will lose his police department.”
This open defiance underscores the political pressures that lead to departments keeping violent and other misbehaving officers on the job.
If you spend time with patrol officers, you’ll often hear of complaints about how people they arrest for violent acts against others are walking out of court without any meaningful consequences. Yet, when one of their own kills a man and failed to provide aid to him as he was dying, their union threatens insubordination and chaos if that officer isn’t protected from consequences. I agree that good officers don’t get enough credit for the service and sacrifices they give to the public, but statements like these are as responsible as any critic or protestor for the sullied reputation of police departments and their officers.
People are fired for mistakes at work all the time, and most people don’t kill anyone while making them. Pantaleo knew he wasn’t supposed to use that chokehold and employing that maneuver led to Eric Garner’s death. If the Commissioner fires Pantaleo, the NYPD rank-and-file should respect that decision.
Police officers need the trust and support of the community to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice. They cannot maintain that trust by neglecting their duty in protest if one of their own is held to account for needlessly killing a man.