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Charges Recommended Against 3 Officers Involved in Violent N.Y. Arrest

2020-05-29 22:35:11
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Investigators with the New York Police Department have recommended misconduct charges against three police officers, including one who sat and knelt on the neck and upper torso of a man he was arresting, a maneuver similar to the one used in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, two people familiar with the matter said.

The Police Department confirmed in a statement on Friday afternoon that its internal affairs bureau had concluded that several officers should be disciplined and that the departmental charges will be filed “as early as next week.”

“New York State law prescribes the process for these disciplinary proceedings,” the statement read. “The department will adhere to the law, ensure due process for all involved and go wherever the facts take us.”

The charges stem from an incident in which Officer Garcia and his partners approached a man and a woman in front of a deli, at the corner of Avenue D and 9th Street, in what the police described as a social-distancing stop that escalated to an arrest on marijuana and weapons charges.

As his partners took the pair into custody, Officer Garcia approached some bystanders, among them a man named Donni Wright. The officer pointed his Taser stun gun and told them to get back as the device buzzed. Another bystander recorded a video of the officer slapping and punching Mr. Wright, who fell to the ground. Officer Garcia then sat on Mr. Wright as another officer put him in handcuffs.

Afterward, the officers filed charges accusing Mr. Wright of assaulting a police officer, but the Manhattan district attorney’s office has delayed the case until prosecutors complete a review of the incident. Danny Frost, a spokesman, said the review was continuing on Friday.

On Friday, Mr. Wright filed a notice of claim announcing his intention to file a $50 million lawsuit against the city. His lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, also called on the Manhattan district attorney to bring criminal charges.

“The video, pictures of the truth, clearly call for a criminal investigation of this matter,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “The evidence is there.”

The nationwide demonstrations recalled those that followed a grand jury’s decision not to bring criminal charges against a New York officer who used a fatal chokehold on Eric Garner during an arrest on Staten Island in 2014. Mr. Floyd and Mr. Garner uttered the same last words: “I can’t breathe.”

As protesters gathered near Foley Square, Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a news conference with the police commissioner at City Hall, called for demonstrators to be peaceful.

“The police officer in front of you is a working man and woman just trying to do their job,” he said. “They did not create the policies. They did not create the pain.”

On Thursday, the mayor had called for the Minneapolis officer who knelt on Mr. Floyd to be charged immediately, while the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, condemned what happened as “unacceptable anywhere.”

Critics were quick to point out that while the Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, had already been fired, it had taken more than five years for New York City to fire the officer who choked Mr. Garner, Daniel Pantaleo.

Regardless of what the disciplinary charges are brought against him and his partners, how their cases are resolved may remain secret because police disciplinary records are shielded under state law.

Still, the quick decision to bring disciplinary charges marked a sharp departure from the handling of the Garner case, in which the police waited for prosecutors to decide whether to bring criminal and civil rights charges before moving ahead with misconduct proceedings.

As a result, the disciplinary trial against Mr. Pantaleo, the officer who put Mr. Garner in a banned chokehold was delayed for five years as police waited for state and then federal prosecutors to decide charges. A Staten Island grand jury decided against criminal charges for Mr. Pantaleo in December 2014 and a federal civil rights probe ended in 2018 without charges.

Mr. de Blasio, who for nearly four years did not call for Mr. Pantaleo to be fired and did not act to begin an administrative trial, said on Friday that the city would no longer delay in such cases.

“The authorities in Minneapolis were right to say this is something that needed to be acted on immediately and I’ve said that from this point on in the City of New York we’re going to act immediately as well. This kind of thing just can’t happen,” Mr. de Blasio said Friday.

The remarks were some of the strongest the mayor has made about race and policing since shortly after Mr. Garner’s death, when he said his biracial son had to worry about interactions with the police. Officers later turned their backs on him at the funerals of two murdered officers.

On Friday, Mr. de Blasio was asked if Mr. Garner would still be alive if he were white. The mayor said “absolutely.” Speaking on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC the mayor questioned why police incidents kept happening. “And why does it always happen to a black man?” Mr. de Blasio said.

Gwenn Carr, Mr. Garner’s mother, said she had been unable to watch the video of Mr. Floyd’s death because it was too painful.

“Maybe it’s guilt and he’s telling them to do what he should have done,” she said, referring to the mayor. “Of course it makes me angry. I wish he would have done that for my son.”

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