Op-Ed: How Police Brutality Can Function as “Terrorism”

OP-ED – the opinions presented here are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by BRLDF

Photo: @megoconnor13/twitter

Video was made public over the weekend showing Phoenix police officers threatening to shoot members of a black family, which included a child and a toddler. The incident occurred on May 27, when the 4-year-old daughter of Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper allegedly stole a doll from a Family Dollar store. (NPR reports that the child’s parents were unaware of the alleged theft.) Officers followed the family — Ames and Harper, who was pregnant, and their two daughters, ages 4 and 1 — to an apartment complex where the family’s babysitter lived. Officers are seen on cell-phone video shouting at the four to exit their vehicle. One is heard yelling, “Get your fucking hands up” and “I’m gonna put a fucking cap in you,” while another voice — perhaps of the same officer — is heard threatening, “You’re gonna get fucking shot.”

The profane tirades turn physical when one officer handcuffs Ames and another tries to yank the toddler from Harper’s arms. The officer with Ames shoves the 22-year-old father against a police vehicle, kicks his legs until Ames falls to one knee, and thrusts his elbow into Ames’s back. The officer with Harper is seen shouting and pointing in her face and pulling on the arm in which she is carrying her 1-year-old baby. He eventually permits the pregnant woman to hand her children to a bystander before arresting her. None of the family members is armed.

The confrontation has prompted a $10 million civil-rights lawsuit and apologies from Phoenix’s mayor and chief of police. According to the suit, the 1-year-old was injured when the officer tried to wrench her from her mother; the 4-year-old has been experiencing nightmares and wetting the bed out of distress ever since. As far as accountability, Mayor Kate Gallego has scheduled a public forum where residents can voice their concerns about the incident and called for quicker implementation of body cameras across the Phoenix Police Department — an odd solution given that visual evidence was not lacking here. Aside from that, it is possible that no further legal or administrative recourse will be forthcoming. Officers routinely skate for killing people. Why would black Phoenicians expect them to be held accountable for merely threatening to kill?

Official accountability aside, the fear and mistrust sown in black communities via such incidents and the resulting mental-health downsides are well documented. The Phoenix debacle is further evidence that many officers’ interactions with black children in particular are rooted in intimidation and violence, with far-reaching side effects. By most definitions, the brutality applied disproportionately against black people by police across the United States is not “terrorism,” in a technical sense, only because it is permitted by law. That said, it serves a similar end: ensuring that its targets and their communities live in a state of constant stress, mistrust, and fear, practically from the cradle to the grave.

By most measures, Ames and Harper are lucky to be alive. The wealth of instances where similar interactions have ended with an unarmed black person dead at the hands of police hints at how easily the encounter could have turned fatal. The fear generated by this possibility is not a matter of probability. Like most Americans, black people are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, or even violence committed domestically or on the streets than at the hands of a police officer. But the peculiar nature of law enforcement’s relationship to black communities is what makes it so laden with fear. With the exception of Native Americans — who make up a much smaller share of the general population — black people are the most likely racial demographic to be harassed, brutalized, or killed by police in a given year. This can be attributed in part to the relationship’s long-standing function: During the lynching era — roughly the end of Reconstruction to the end of Jim Crow — the primary job of law enforcement, when it came to black Americans, was to contain them at the bottom of the racial hierarchy by enforcing laws designed to criminalize them, while ensuring that white people were not punished for murdering them or robbing them of their land and labor.

When black people fled the South en masse during the Great Migration to escape this treatment, the cities and towns to which they fled in the North, West, and Midwest greeted them with a presumption of innate criminality, a presumption driven in part by crime statistics that reflected the extent to which the most trivial aspects of their lives — including riding an empty freight train or “speaking loudly in the presence of white women” — had been transformed into crimes in the South. Police were used to corral new black residents into ghettos depressed by poverty and molded by desperation and limited avenues for mobility. Yet remarkably, the structural ills that were imposed on the black sections of these municipalities were cast as products of their residents’ own pathologies. To this day, many Americans remain convinced that the harsh policing that dogs black communities is a necessary response to something inherently wrong with black people. For those on the receiving end, the result is a state of terror. Terrorism works by convincing its targets that they are always being hunted — no matter where they are or what they are doing, their lives are out of their hands. Its aim is victory through fear. And what better way to ensure that people live in fear than to demonstrate that even the most minor transgressions — a 4-year-old’s supposed theft of a doll from a Family Dollar store — can result in their public execution?

The psychological fallout is demonstrated in the data: According to a 2014 study conducted by public-health researchers at Harvard and Boston University, incidents of lethal police violence precipitate a spike in what black adult respondents consider to be “poor mental health days” not just among people close to those victimized but their communities more broadly, judging by metrics established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The impact is racially asymmetrical: “Mental health impacts were not observed among white respondents and resulted only from police killings of unarmed black Americans,” the study reads. For black children, such negative interactions can be formative. A 2018 survey of research on the subject compiled in The Future of Children, a journal of the policy-research partnership between Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Brookings Institution, found that many black youth in Chicago view police as “a constant, inescapable, and unwelcome presence” in their lives. Interactions are marked frequently by officers exerting their dominance in the form of offensive questions and degrading directives, causing black children to feel powerless. As a result, by the time they turn 18, many of these youth have a bleak but well-earned outlook on policing: According to a 2014 survey by the Black Youth Project and the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, more than half of black people between ages 18 and 34 have experienced police violence or harassment or know someone who has. (Thirty-three percent of white respondents and 25 percent of Latino respondents had.) Fewer than half of black respondents said they trust the police, compared to 60 percent of Latinos and 72 percent of whites.

It remains incredible, given this documented mistreatment of so many black children by the police, that pundits and politicians continue to attribute negative disparities to some innate black defect — often located in the black family. Broken black homes are blamed for crime in black communities, with scant or ancillary mention of imposed poverty, the ills of segregation, or the role the state plays in rupturing said families using the criminal-justice system. Police violence is dismissed as subordinate to intraracial violence, or “black-on-black” crime — a phenomenon endemic, to varying degrees, within every racial group — as if the two were separate and distinct phenomena rather than twin products of racist policy. If these pundits are correct, then the May 27 incident in Phoenix might be cast as reasonable treatment for a 4-year-old alleged shoplifter, her pregnant mother, father, and 1-year-old sister. But if — as history and the evidence suggest — black families can more accurately be described as victims of violence than its root cause, then the Phoenix police were culpable in not just an overreaction but an act of terror.


“How Police Brutality Can Function as Terrorism”, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/phoenix-police-threatening-family-was-terrorism.html


Phoenix Mayor Apologizes After Police Draw Guns on Family Over Report of Stolen Doll

Police officers in Phoenix stopping a family after getting a report that a 4-year-old girl had left a store with a doll without paying for it. The city’s mayor condemned the officers’ response.Creditvia Twitter

CreditCreditvia Twitter

By Mihir Zaveri and Sandra E. Garcia

The mayor of Phoenix apologized on Saturday after videos showed that police officers in the city who had been responding to a report of a shoplifting had drawn their weapons, shouted expletives, and threatened to shoot a man in the face in front of his young children.


The mayor, Kate Gallego, said in a statement that she was “sick” over what she had seen in the videos.

“It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional,” she said. “There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable. As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting.”

The episode has drawn widespread attention as police encounters with civilians have faced heightened scrutiny, which is increasingly augmented by videos captured by bystanders on cellphones or by officers’ body cameras.

“We want and expect law enforcement to protect and respect, not target and intimidate,” she said. “We need stronger, independent police oversight and bias training, to root out and prevent abuses.”

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents officers, did not respond to emails on Sunday.

Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper and their two children were driving to a babysitter after shopping at a Family Dollar store when a police car pulled them over.Creditvia Twitter
Creditvia Twitter

No charges were filed in connection with the episode, which started at a Family Dollar store. What preceded the events is in dispute. Neither side could even agree on when it had happened: The notice of claim said it had been May 29, and the police officers said it had been May 27.

[Read how Phoenix officials were blaming residents for the high number of police-involved shootings last year.]

Two videos of the encounter show officers yelling. Shouting expletives, they tell Mr. Ames to get his hands up. An officer can be heard saying that he’s going to “put a cap” in Mr. Ames’s head. As Mr. Ames exits the vehicle, an officer presses him against the pavement and handcuffs him, then pushes him against a police vehicle.

The footage shows another officer pointing his firearm toward the car as the couple’s 4-year-old daughter exits the car from the back seat, followed by Ms. Harper, who is carrying her 1-year-old daughter in one arm. An officer yells at her to put the child on the ground and then grabs her arm.

The Police Department said on Facebook that the episode had begun after a store manager had alerted an officer to a possible shoplifting occurrence and had said that those being sought were getting into a car. The department said officers had found the couple’s car a mile away from the store.

The department said Mr. Ames had admitted he had stolen a package of underwear that he had thrown out of the car window and had said that he was also driving with a suspended license.

Mr. Horne disputed the police account and said officers had been alerted by an “anonymous alleged witness” that the couple had been shoplifting, and had followed them to the apartment complex without their patrol car sirens on.

The notice of claim said the couple had not realized until they were back at their car that their 4-year-old daughter had walked out of the store with a doll.

The couple had been driving to their babysitter’s home when a police car pulled in behind them, according to the notice. Once the couple was in the parking lot, an officer had walked up to the driver’s side with a gun drawn, Mr. Horne wrote, adding that the officer then opened the door and began to shout at Mr. Ames.

A second officer pointed a gun at Ms. Harper, who had been sitting in the back seat on the driver’s side and who was “pregnant, which was obvious from her appearance,” Mr. Horne wrote.

The door to the car was malfunctioning and the couple could not get out of the car, the notice said. The officer walked around the car with his gun drawn and dragged Ms. Harper and her daughters out of the car by the neck, according to the notice.

The store did not press charges, Mr. Horne said. An employee at the store declined to comment on Sunday, and said a manager was unavailable.

Mr. Horne said Mr. Ames had denied telling the police officers that he had stolen underwear.

The mayor said she was calling for a community meeting on June 18 in which the police chief was expected to answer questions from the public.


An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated the name of the store where the family was shopping. It was Family Dollar, not Dollar General.


Mihir Zaveri and Sandra E. Garcia, Phoenix Mayor Apologizes After Police Draw Guns on Family Over Report of Stolen Doll”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/16/us/phoenix-police-brutality-lawsuit.html.

Parents say Phoenix cops pointed guns at them after 4-year-old daughter took doll from store

A couple has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department alleging civil rights violations and police brutality after an officer allegedly pulled their guns on the family. Unbeknownst to Dravon Ames and Lesha Harper, their 4-year-old daughter had taken a doll from a Family Dollar Store, CBS affiliate KPHO-TV reported.

The family claims they weren’t aware their daughter had taken the doll until they were in their car and on their way to a nearby apartment complex where their babysitter lived. That’s when they said a police car silently pulled up behind them and an officer went up to Ames and allegedly pointed a gun at him.

According to the suit, Ames was pulled out of the car, kicked in the right leg and punched in the back — all while Harper, who is pregnant, and her 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughter remained in the car. The officer reportedly also pointed his gun at Harper and her children.

“We’re talking about a little doll that’s worth maybe $5 and the horrors that came from the overreaction to that,” former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who is representing the family.

Ames and Harper said they were threatened and handcuffed. They said the incident occurred May 29, though police contend it happened on May 27.

The Phoenix Police Department said it was opening an investigation after partial footageof the incident was released by a bystander. The family says the video does not include the first five to 10 minutes of the encounter. No arrests were made nor were charges filed, though Ames says his car was impounded and that the injuries he sustained have made him unable to work.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego issued a statement calling the officer’s conduct as seen in the footage “completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional.” Gallego has scheduled a community meeting to take place Tuesday.

Mayor Kate Gallego


My statement on the May 27th Phoenix Police incident:

1,986 people are talking about this

“After this, me and my daughters will never be the same anymore or feel the same for police because it seems like every police is out for blood or something. We wasn’t really doing anything,” Harper said during a press conference.

The Family Dollar Store declined to press charges after the doll was returned. Officers were reportedly at the store to investigate an unrelated shoplifting incident.


 / CBS NEWS, “Parents say Phoenix cops pointed guns at them after 4-year-old daughter took doll from store”, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/parents-say-phoenix-officers-pointed-guns-at-them-after-4-year-old-took-doll-from-store-2019-06-15/

Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers Like Contagion

According to new research, reassigning police officers with a history of misconduct makes it more likely that their new peers will also misbehave.

iStock-926719206 2.jpg
Behaviors—both good and bad—can spread between peers in any environment, including the police force. Image Credit: kali9, iStock

Nearly five years after fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014, former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is now serving a seven-year prison sentence on a conviction of second-degree murder.

But firing 16 bullets at a black teenager holding a knife was likely far from Van Dyke’s first offense. Since he began policing in 2001, at least 25 separate complaints have been filed against Van Dyke by civilians and fellow officers, most involving excessive force. Prior to the most recent charges, none of these allegations resulted in disciplinary action, leaving Van Dyke in the employ of the Chicago Police Department until he was stripped of the position during indictments.

Van Dyke’s case is extreme. But his trajectory wasn’t anomalous. Rather than being fired, officers accused of stealing, lying, mistreating civilians, or otherwise abusing their power are often allowed to retain their roles as public servants, with some rerouted into new positions in the force as a reprimand for bad behavior.

Now, new research published today in the journal Nature Human Behavior suggests that retaining misbehaving officers in police organizations might have far worse consequences than leaving accusations unaddressed: It could actually propagatemisconduct itself.

Even the well-intended shuffle of reassignment, often doled out in attempt to stem the transgressions of offending officers, could be having the exact opposite effect, spreading misdeeds from individuals to their peers like a behavioral contagion.

“I’m really happy to see this study, because it’s very hard to do research on this topic,” says Carol Archbold, a criminologist studying police accountability at North Dakota State University who was not involved in the study. “This shows that it’s important to have accountability in place to track and identify these officers. If you don’t correct the problematic behavior, you’re just moving the problem.”

These findings confirm what’s been hinted at by prior research, including work that has focused on police misconduct in the United States. Most older studies, however, relied on data collected from surveys and interviews of police officers, making it tough to tell if patterns of misconduct were a result of the ripple effect of peer-to-peer influence, or if individuals simply choose to associate with peers with similar inclinations.

The new study, however, took an unprecedented approach. To construct an effective timeline of officers’ actions, behavioral economists Edika Quispe-Torreblanca and Neil Stewart leveraged four years of records from the London Metropolitan Police Service, analyzing data from 35,000 individual police personnel between 2011 and 2014. As officers moved from appointment to appointment, the researchers tabulated allegations of misconduct levied against them and their coworkers (a common proxy for misconduct in these types of studies). Unlike its predecessors, the study could pinpoint instances in which the track records of a misbehaving officer’s new peers took a downturn after that person came onto the scene—changes that hinted strongly at cause and effect.

“The [authors] were able to get rid of many of the issues that other research faces,” says Ojmarrh Mitchell, a criminologist at the University of South Florida who authored a commentary on the new study. “[These results] indicate a causal relationship, and that’s a remarkable finding.”

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Studies have shown that a small fraction of police officers are responsible for a disproportionate number of acts of misconduct. Image Credit: ChiccoDodiFC, iStock

The new study found that, as officers with records of misconduct transitioned between working groups within the police force, they consistently increased the likelihood that those around them would be accused of bad behavior.

This wasn’t very surprising, Stewart says. But no one had ever put an exact number to how strong these effects were—and even he and Quispe-Torreblanca were taken aback by its magnitude: For every 10 percent increase in the proportion of a police officer’s peers with a history of misconduct (for instance, adding one allegedly misbehaving member to a group of 10), that officer’s chances of engaging in misdeeds in the next three months rose by nearly 8 percent.

“Given how frequently police officers are transferred to different units in response to bad behavior, this contagion effect is really important,” Mitchell says.

The effect is also likely not restricted to wayfaring officers in transition: Though more difficult to measure, bad behavior probably also disseminates within existing groups, Stewart says.

What’s not yet clear, however, is the root of the infectious nature of police misconduct. But this is far from the first study to find that our peers hold serious sway over our actions under a variety of circumstances. “I don’t think this is a police problem as much as a human being problem,” Stewart says.

And humans tend to look to the people around them for guidance on how to behave. “We are a social species, and fitting in with a group is just a very powerful part of our nature,” says Linda Treviño, an expert in organizational behavior and ethics at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the study. “If everyone in a social context is doing things in a particular way, ethical or unethical, most people will follow their lead.”

Addressing the issue will likely require interventions on multiple fronts, Mitchell says. One solution might include improving methods of identifying and disciplining (and not reassigning) a small faction of particularly problematic officers in the force who are responsible for a disproportionately large share of police misconduct—and might be repeatedly seeding bad behavior in others. In spite of evidence that bad behavior often concentrates in a minority of corrupt cops, few officers are disciplined or fired in the aftermath of misconduct. Even among those who are terminated, some quickly end up rehired in other jurisdictions, potentially widening their reach.

“Bad officers stick around for much longer than they should,” Mitchell says. “Removal needs to be easier than it has been.”

But the larger issue at hand might be cultural, Treviño says. If police organizations as a whole remain tolerant of misconduct, these issues are unlikely to get resolved anytime soon. “Managers need to look at the entire system that is creating the social environment that supports the bad behavior,” she says. “It’s about the context you create…if there’s leadership that says, ‘We have values, this is the way we behave, this is what the expectations are,’ if a toxic person comes along, they’ll get spit out.”

Part of this overhaul might require rethinking the infamous “code of silence” that prevails among law enforcement officers, many of whom have been accused of turning a blind eye to crooked behavior amongst colleagues in the field in an effort to preserve camaraderie. Those violating the code have suffered serious repercussions, including, perhaps most infamously, Frank Serpico, who was ostracized and abandoned by his fellow police officers after whistleblowing on the NYPD’s rampant corruption in 1971.

“Police executives need to foster an environment that encourages officers to say something if they see something,” Archbold says. “It really begins and ends with encouraging officers to report…and making officers feel supported by peers and supervisors if they do.”

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Many officers maintain clean records. But for those who misbehave, there aren’t always consequences. Between 1975 and 1996, for instance, less than 2 percent of NYPD officers were terminated for misconduct. Image Credit: Travel Wild, iStock

Simply building and maintaining archives like the one analyzed in the new study, however, could increase accountability, Archbold says. Though similar compilations haven’t traditionally been common in the United States, a nationwide effort by the USA TODAY Network recently identified more than 85,000 law enforcement officerswho have been investigated or disciplined for acts of misconduct over the last decade—a “treasure trove” of data that could yield powerful follow-up research in the future, she adds.

On a smaller scale, early intervention systems that enable organizations to monitor problematic behavior could flag officers who might benefit from immediate retraining, counseling, and supervision, Archbold says. “The spread [of misconduct] can be stopped if it’s tracked, and if something’s done about it.”

In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind how many working members of the police force maintain clean records, Stewart says. The contagiousness of behavior remains a two-way street. There’s nothing to say that ethical attitudes aren’t transmitted between peers, too—or even that negative effects are irreversible. In their analysis, the researchers also found that when the number of deviant officers in a cohort went down, so did the chances of its remaining members engaging in misconduct.

In other words, an antidote does exist—one that’s capable of tempering the malady, even as it spreads.

“Peer effects work both ways,” Treviño says. “A strong, ethical social environment is a very powerful positive tool.”


KATHERINE J. WU, “Study Finds Misconduct Spreads Among Police Officers Like Contagion”, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/police-misconduct-peer-effects/

Video shows police repeatedly punching New Jersey teen in the head during arrest

The video spurred a 50-person protest on Sunday evening, where people demanded answers from the New Jersey’s town police department about what happened.


Ben Kesslen, “Video shows police repeatedly punching New Jersey teen in the head during arrest”, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/video-shows-police-repeatedly-punching-new-jersey-teen-head-during-n1007641

Bridgeport man’s charges dismissed in police misconduct case


BRIDGEPORT – Criminal charges were dismissed Tuesday against a city man whose October 2017 arrest during a pre-Halloween party led to disciplinary action against 17 police officers accused of using excessive force and lying on police reports.

“After a year and a half, I finally got justice and it feels great,” said Carmelo Mendez, as he left the Golden Hill Street courthouse. “I said all along that the police were the aggressors and now a court has seen it, too.”

Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti dismissed the charges of interfering with police and breach of peace pending against Mendez as the case was about to go to trial. Prosecutors had entered a nolle in the case in which they were discontinuing the prosecution without comment and the judge then granted a motion to dismiss the charges from Mendez’s lawyer, Robert Berke.

The dismissal now sets up a lawsuit against the city and the Police Department.

City spokeswoman Rowena White said late Tuesday that the City Attorney’s office was unaware of the dismissal.

“Mr. Mendez has filed a lawsuit, and so we cannot comment on pending litigation,” she said.

Berke confirmed later that he will be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Police Department but declined further comment.

“I’m going to sue the city,” Mendez said. “I need to get justice for what they did to me.”

He said he suffers from permanent eye damage as a result of the incident.

Mendez and his sister were arrested on Oct. 21, 2017, after police responded to a noise complaint at the sister’s home on Colorado Avenue. Eventually, 45 officers responded to the scene.

A report by the city’s Office of Internal Affairs, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, found that 17 officers involved in the case violated police rules and regulations including using excessive force on Mendez who had been taking video of the police response.

The OIA report states that video from the party shows Officer Michael Stanitis strike Mendez multiple times in the side of the head with the butt of his flashlight as Mendez was held on the ground by other officers. “Officer Stanitis stated he did not see any injuries on Mr. Mendez, offering that he was unable to ‘even see him at all.’” The report states that Mendez had an “S” imprint on his face consistent with the butt end of the flashlight carried by the officer.

Mendez and his sister, Wanda Mendez, were arrested. His sister was charged with assault on a public safety officer, interfering with police, inciting a riot and breach of peace. Her case is still pending.

Last week, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners began closed hearings against each of the accused officers in the case.

At his last court hearing, Carmelo Mendez told the judge he wanted a trial and Berke filed a motion for a speedy trial. Jury selection in the case was to begin Tuesday.

Last month, Carmelo Mendez sued the police department on behalf of his 8-year-old son and 13-year-old niece who he claims witnessed officers beating him up.

“They both were traumatized as they stood by and watched police beating me up,” Mendez said. “My son didn’t want to celebrate Halloween again after what happened.”


‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial

Disciplinary proceedings against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is accused of using a chokehold to subdue Mr. Garner, could lead to his firing.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, at a protest in 2015 outside the Manhattan office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.CreditCreditMark Kauzlarich/The New York Times

By Ashley Southall

The last words Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, uttered on a New York City sidewalk in 2014 instantly became a national rallying cry against police brutality. “I can’t breathe,’’ Mr. Garner pleaded 11 times after a police officer in plain clothes placed his arm across his neck and pulled him to the ground while other officers handcuffed him.

The encounter was captured on a video that ricocheted around the world, set off protests and prompted calls for the officers to be fired and criminally charged.

Mr. Garner’s death was part of a succession of police killings across the country that became part of a wrenching conversation about how officers treat people in predominantly poor and minority communities.

Now, the officer who wrapped his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck, Daniel Pantaleo, 33, faces a public trial that could lead to his firing. Officer Pantaleo has denied wrongdoing and his lawyer argues that he did not apply a chokehold.

The trial, scheduled to start Monday at Police Department headquarters, has been long-awaited by the Garner family, whose campaign to hold the police accountable for what they say is an unjustified use of force took on greater significance after Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, died in 2017.

The city paid $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit with the family after a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has fought and delayed the family’s efforts to have all the police officers involved in the encounter punished.

“It was at least a dozen more who just did nothing, or either they pounced on him, they choked him, they filed false reports,” Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said in an interview. “It’s about all of those officers who committed an injustice that day and they all need to stand accountable.”

Officer Pantaleo faces charges of reckless use of a chokehold and intentional restriction of breathing. His lawyer says that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, but a different technique that is taught to officers in training and is known as a seatbelt.

So the trial will have to settle two questions at the heart of the case: Was the maneuver Officer Pantaleo used a chokehold? And, if so, was the officer justified in using it to subdue an unarmed man during a low-level arrest?

On Thursday, the Police Department judge overseeing the trial said that prosecutors must prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions went beyond a violation of departmental rules and constituted a crime — an unusually high bar.

Video of the fatal encounter was recorded by Ramsey Orta, a friend of Mr. Garner’s who is expected to testify at Officer Pantaleo’s trial. It captured Mr. Garner telling officers in street clothes to leave him alone after they approached him outside a beauty supply store on July 17, 2014, not far from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Mr. Garner had repeated encounters with the police and believed that he was being harassed.

“This stops today,” he told the officers before they moved to arrest him over accusations that he was selling untaxed cigarettes. As one officer tried to grab Mr. Garner’s hand, he slipped free. Then Officer Pantaleo slid one arm around Mr. Garner’s neck and another under his left arm and dragged him to the ground. On the pavement, he begged for air.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and said he died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest from lying prone. The findings are a crucial issue in the trial and Officer Pantaleo’s defense lawyer plans to dispute them.

Stuart London, the police union lawyer representing Officer Pantaleo, said the technique his client used was the seatbelt maneuver taught in the Police Academy, not a chokehold. He plans to argue that Mr. Garner, who was overweight and severely asthmatic, died because of poor health.

“Those who have been able to not come to a rushed judgment, but have looked at the video in explicit detail, see Pantaleo’s intent and objective was to take him down pursuant to how he was taught by NYPD, control him when they got on the ground, and then have him cuffed,” Mr. London said in an interview. “There was never any intent for him to exert pressure on his neck and choke him out the way the case has been portrayed.”

Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times
Demonstrators protesting a decision by a grand jury not to bring criminal charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in December 2014.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, is prosecuting the case against Officer Pantaleo and is seeking his termination.

But the ruling on Thursday by the judge, Rosemarie Maldonado, the deputy police commissioner in charge of trials, denied Mr. London’s motion to dismiss the case. But her ruling means that prosecutors need to prove that Officer Pantaleo’s actions rose to the crimes of assault and strangulation in order to avoid the state’s prohibition on bringing misconduct charges more than 18 months after occurrence.

Colleen Roache, a spokeswoman for the review board, said prosecutors understood their obligation when they served Officer Pantaleo with the charges last July.

But critics have said the review board’s failure to file charges sooner had made the prosecutors’ case significantly harder to prove.

The Police Department banned chokeholds in 1993 amid concern about a rising number of civilian deaths in police custody. In 2016, the department added an exception to its chokehold ban under certain circumstances, which critics said made it easier for officers to justify its use.

After Mr. Garner’s death, the Police Department spent $35 million to retrain officers not to use chokeholds, but they continue to use the maneuver and rarely face punishment.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, with testimony from about two dozen witnesses. Officer Pantaleo has not decided whether he will testify, Mr. London said.

When the trial ends, Deputy Commissioner Maldonado, will decide if Officer Pantaleo is guilty. If guilt is determined, she will recommend a penalty to Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, who will make the final decision.

Short of firing, any discipline of Officer Pantaleo, a 13-year veteran, may never become public because of a state law that shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure.

The delays and secrecy surrounding officer discipline are part of the reason that police reform advocates say the public has lost trust in the city’s process for assessing complaints against officers.

The de Blasio administration fought to keep prior abuse complaints against Officer Pantaleo secret, including one stemming from a car stop in which the occupants said he strip-searched them on the street.

The records were eventually leaked, but the administration won several court rulings broadening the scope of the secrecy law.

“It’s been de Blasio and his administration who’ve been blocking the whole time that I’ve been trying to get the officers fired,” Ms. Carr said.

Despite Eric Garner and ‘I Can’t Breathe,’ Chokeholds Still Used

Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death

The trial will revisit a painful chapter marked by months of protests with marchers chanting Mr. Garner’s final words.

Not long after a Staten Island grand jury in December 2014 decided not to charge Officer Pantaleo with a crime, two officers were ambushed and killed by a gunman while sitting in their patrol car.

To Mr. Garner’s family and their supporters, his death discredited a crime-fighting strategy that the police and mayors have cited repeatedly as helping to drive crime rates to their lowest level in recent history. The strategy relies on targeting lower-level offenses that the police believe create the environment for more violent crime.

But critics say it has resulted in racial profiling, targeting mostly black and Latino men in poorer neighborhoods.

The Police Department delayed disciplinary proceedings against Officer Pantaleo for years because of an ongoing federal investigation. But with prosecutors in the Department of Justice divided over whether to bring charges, police officials decided to allow the disciplinary process to move forward.

Officer Pantaleo and Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, who was the first supervisor to arrive on the scene where the police were confronting Mr. Garner, were stripped of their guns and placed on desk jobs. Sergeant Adonis, who has since been restored to full duty, has been administratively charged with failing to properly oversee officers, but a date for her disciplinary trial has not been set.

A state judge recently denied Officer Pantaleo’s motion to have the civilian review board removed from the case. He argued that the agency lacked jurisdiction because the person who filed the complaint was not involved or an eyewitness.

“It’s time for Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, the rest of the Garner family, and the people of the City of New York to have closure,” Fred Davie, the chairman of the civilian review board, said in a statement.

On the stretch of Bay Street where Mr. Garner died, the type of behavior that drew police attention five years ago persists. People peddle loose cigarettes and a sign affixed to a door outside an apartment building warns against selling heroin on a stoop.

“It’s a hustle block,” Christopher Sweat, a retired chef, said. “It’s a regular mood until the cops get called.”

Nearby, a plaque memorializes Mr. Garner’s death as a murder, adding, “May his soul rest in peace.” Passers-by on a recent afternoon were unanimous in their belief that Officer Pantaleo deserved to be fired.

“It was a blatant chokehold,” said Keenen Hill, 46, a maintenance man who lives in the neighborhood. “Stevie Wonder saw that.”

Laura Dimon and Ali Winston contributed reporting.

Ashley Southallm, “‘I Can’t Breathe’: 5 Years After Eric Garner’s Death, an Officer Faces Trial”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/nyregion/eric-garner-death-daniel-pantaleo-chokehold.html

Claims of excessive force by Paterson, NJ police

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) — A 7 On Your Side investigation into the Paterson Police Department finds that many alleged excessive force cases are being swept under the rug with millions in settlements and an Internal Affairs Department that rarely substantiate abuse cases.

“We don’t see officers being removed from the force,” said attorney Nancy Lucianna, who has represented dozens of people in abuse cases against Paterson police. “We don’t see officers being suspended, being re-trained. They’re put right back there right on the street to offend and keep doing what they’re doing.”

Our investigation has found that since 2013, Paterson has paid out more than $2 million in settlements, much of that to people claiming police abuse.

“You see fractures with surgery, pins, plates, open-reduction surgeries on arms and legs and shoulders,” said attorney Shelley Strangler, who has won numerous settlements for her clients in abuse cases against Paterson police.

She says despite six officers being caught up in an FBI corruption probe, the abuse cases out of Paterson just keep coming.

“It’s all about discipline,” she said. “If you’re not disciplined for the use of force or for improper behavior, then you are spreading the message to all of your officers that it’s OK to engage in misconduct.”

Dennis Deluccia got an $85,000 settlement after two Paterson police officers broke his leg when he asked police if they had a warrant to search his house.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you guys just leave? Nobody called the cops here,’ and I got jumped in my own house,” he said. “And I got my leg snapped when they jumped me.”

And earlier this year, a former Paterson police officer who was caught on camera brutally assaulting a suicidal man in a hospital was sentenced to six years in prison. The officer who recorded the attack and concealed the evidence was sentenced to six months.

7 On Your Side Investigates obtained data through Open Records Requests that show there is virtually no chance of a victim of alleged abuse having their complaint substantiated by Paterson Police Internal Affairs investigators.

From 2014 through 2018, there were 183 complaints of excessive force or improper arrest investigated by Internal Affairs — and only ONE complaint was substantiated.

“The Internal Affairs function is not effective enough to properly discipline and reprimand officers,” Strangler said. “And therefore, there is this toleration, so to speak, toleration of misconduct, because the officers know that they are not going to be disciplined.”

The Paterson Police Department has ignored our emails and phone calls seeking a response to this report. However, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh earlier this year called for a top-to-bottom audit of the department, saying, “I demand accountability and transparency.”


NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data


NYPD flouts requirement to disclose police misconduct info, vows to post data
NYPD flouts data requirement, vows to post info on police misconduct (rafalkrakow/rafalkrakow)

The NYPD has ignored for more than two years a city law requiring it to reveal statistics about officer misconduct, the Daily News has learned.

Police admitted the omission and said the information would soon be on its website.

The department declined to say why the data had not been posted, but City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) said there is a simple explanation: the NYPD’s first instinct when it comes to information is to withhold it.

’I think the NYPD has learned that the more the council and the public know about the racial disparities in policing and the lack of police accountability within the NYPD the more heat the NYPD gets to change its policies and reform its practices,” Lancman said.

“So they’ve obviously decided that withholding information they’re legally required to produce is more important to them than abandoning racially disparate practices and disciplinary processes that let officers engage in misconduct with impunity.”

The Deployment Law, a local ordinance, took effect Oct. 1, 2016. It requires police to report annually the number and percentage of cops in each police command with misconduct markers on their records: at least two substantiated civilian complaints or the use of excessive force in the prior three years, a suspension in the prior five years, or an unsealed arrest back 10 years.

The data is considered useful in spotting trends; for instance if a police unit was linked to numerous brutality complaints. It does not name officers or provide specifics that could reveal a cop’s identity.

The law requires police to post the data on the day the ordinance went into effect, and thereafter every February. But as of last week, only the 2016 data had been posted and, as Lancman noted, the numbers aren’t broken down by category of misconduct as required.

“So even with the information they have posted,” Lancman said, “what they have produced is practically useless.’’

A candidate for Queens District Attorney, Lancman said he learned almost by chance about the missing information.

Having sued the NYPD for not fully complying with a law requiring police to disclose data about fare evasion enforcement, Lancman checked if police were adhering to other laws.

The City Council also requires the NYPD to release stop and frisk data, but when it did so in Feb. 2007 it was discovered that such data had not been posted since late 2003.

How the NYPD tracks officer misconduct and disciplines its own has been headline news over the past few years. In 2016, the department stopped releasing to the media summaries of internal disciplinary proceedings against officers, reversing 40 years of practice. It cited Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights law for its action.

Section 50-a specifies that personnel records of police, firefighters and correction officers should be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without an individual’s written consent except if mandated by a court order. In the event of a court order, the personnel records in question are sealed and sent to a judge, who evaluates their relevance and releases to a petitioner only those sections deemed relevant by a judge.

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill have advocated for the law to be amended.


Why Are So Many ‘Bad Apple’ Police Officers Bad in the Same Way?

Brian Encinia, a former trooper with the Texas Department of Safety, confronting Sandra Bland at a traffic stop.

Brian Encinia, a former trooper with the Texas Department of Safety, confronting Sandra Bland at a traffic stop. Photo: Sandra Bland

Brian Encinia said that he ordered Sandra Bland out of her vehicle, forced her to the ground, and handcuffed her on July 10, 2015, because he feared for his safety. “My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time,” the former–Texas Department of Safety trooper told the agency’s Office of Inspector General. “I had a feeling that anything could’ve been either retrieved or hidden within her area of control.”

But newly released footage contradicts this account. On Monday, reporters with Dallas television station WFAA aired a 39-second cell phone videocaptured by Bland that had not been previously made public. It depicts an irate Encinia threatening to “light … up” the black 28-year-old with his stun gun and demanding that she exit her car and “get off the phone,” all while Bland asks him repeatedly why a “failure to signal” called for such treatment. “The video shows that [Encinia] wasn’t in fear of his safety,” Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for Bland’s family, told the New York Times. “You could see that it was a cell phone. He was looking right at it.”

Bland was found dead in a Waller County jail cell three days later; authorities ruled her death a suicide. Nationwide protests followed. The Naperville, Illinois, native — who, before her arrest, was en route to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas — became the most prominent woman to die in police custody as a result of police violence during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Encinia was charged with perjury for lying about the circumstances surrounding Bland’s arrest, but the charges were dropped on the condition that he never seek a job in law enforcement again. As a result, Encinia — whose former lawyer told the Times that he is now “working in the private sector, supporting his wife and family and living a quiet life” — became one of the countless American police officers to face no legal consequences for demonstrated misconduct.

The gravity of Encinia’s behavior falls short of the murderousness shown by Michael Slager and Jason Van Dyke, police officers who were convicted of crimes after shooting and killing black men. But it is an edifying example nonetheless in the debate over whether cases of police misconduct are a series of isolated incidents or part of a systemic problem. Public opinion is divided on the issue — but perhaps predictably, the divide is largely racial and politically partisan. According to a 2015 PRRI survey conducted after the killings of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray, 74 percent of black Americans believed that such killings were part of a broader pattern of police behavior, compared to 43 percent of white Americans. Thirty percent of Democrats felt they were isolated incidents, compared to 65 percent of Republicans.

The position held by most whites and Republicans can be summarized as the “bad apple” theory of law enforcement — the idea that a few bad actors exist but should not reflect poorly on an otherwise-good bunch. Prominent subscribers include former–U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has deployed this argument to discredit federal oversight of local police departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” the then-senator said in 2017. About 67 percent of police officers agree with Sessions that these occurrences say little about policing as a whole.

But what happens in their immediate aftermath is just as illuminating in uncovering the truth as the incidents themselves. Encinia did not just order Bland out of her car, threaten her, and arrest her for apparently frivolous reasons. He lied to investigators about the threat that he believed she posed. His official account of the exchange hinged entirely on the assertion that his actions were justified because he thought he was in danger. And he is not alone in pursuing this line of reasoning. Almost every prominent police killing or assault of an unarmed black person in recent years has been followed by official claims that the officer feared for his or her safety. In cases as disparate geographically as the shooting deaths of Mike Brown in Missouri, Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma, Sam Dubose in Ohio, and the 15-year-old boy attacked in April by sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Florida, police have invoked the fear they purportedly felt to justify their violence.

This approach has yielded dividends. Department policy and Supreme Court precedent have combined to render more or less legal the brutalization of civilians, as long as the officer in question can demonstrate that their actions were “objectively reasonable.” Of course, what is considered “objectively reasonable” shifts from state to state and case to case — such that more often than not, merely claiming to have felt fear is treated as objectively reasonable grounds for murder.

We can say with confidence that this is a systemic problem because letting these officers off the hook is a systemic act — enshrined in law and practice across the United States and carried out in official press conferences, departmental investigations, and grand jury proceedings. “A few bad apples” are not to blame for a system-wide mechanism which police can so reliably turn to for exoneration that they do so almost every time they are caught doing wrong. There is something fundamentally nefarious about the whole institution when so many such cases follow a familiar script: Commit violence against an unarmed civilian, then claim — often dishonestly — to have been so frightened that no other option was available.

Sandra Bland may have been mistreated by a lone officer on the street that day. But it was the system that empowered Encinia to treat her as he did in the first place — and that gave him confidence that even if the encounter ended with her dying, he could lie and expect to be protected.


“Why Are So Many ‘Bad Apple’ Police Officers Bad in the Same Way?”, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/05/sandra-bland-footage.html