By Gina Martinez
The NYPD has turned over footage of an arrest after City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) threatened to subpoena the department if they refused to release records in a case that reportedly involved the banned chokehold technique.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill overturned a guilty verdict against an officer in a department misconduct trial and did not reveal what the cop was accused of doing. It was later reported by the Daily News that the cop was charged with using the banned chokehold technique. Despite the trial being open to the public, the city withheld footage of the incident.
The NYPD said the video footage of such incidents is normally protected from public disclosure under New York State Law 50-a, as reaffirmed in several recent court decisions. But in this case, the officer, who was the subject of a complaint and related disciplinary proceeding, consented to the release of this footage, as he is entitled to do under 50-a.
“This video clearly demonstrates that the officer did not use a chokehold or any other prohibited tactic to prevent the defendant, who was under arrest and in handcuffs, from spitting on him and his partner and others confined in the elevator,” Assistant Commissioner Peter Donald said in a statement.
O’Neill reviewed the video and all evidence involved in the case and rejected the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s conclusion that the officer’s actions constituted a chokehold and he directed that the officer be found not guilty. NYPD said in the rare occurrences where the police commissioner overturns a trial court decision, the department will ask the officers if they would agree to waive their 50-a protection status for any video presented in their case.
Last week, Lancman demanded that the NYPD turn over all records pertaining to the case after finding out O’Neill overturned the administrative judge’s verdict. Lancman said NYPD needed to make details of the case public.
In a letter addressed to O’Neill, the councilman had said that if the records were not turned over by Sept. 7, he would ask the Council to issue a subpoena.
Lancman is a sponsor of pending legislation which would make a police officer’s use of a chokehold a misdemeanor. In his letter, he asked the commissioner to turn over records pertaining to the case.
The controversy surrounding the NYPD’s use of the chokehold technique intensified after the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014.
Police Officer Daniel Pataleo was caught on video choking the father of six for selling loosies after he repeatedly told the officer “I can’t breathe.” Garner died soon after.
Pantaleo was acquitted, but the city was ordered to pay $5.9 million to his family. Lancman said he was shocked that chokeholds remain in use three decades after they were banned by the NYPD and after the death of Garner.
Lancman said that the release of only part of the video, which is part of all the evidence considered by the administrative judge in substantiating the CCRB’s charges against the officer in question, makes the need to release the full video all the more compelling.
“The purpose of releasing information is not to spin in favor of one side or the other through selective disclosure,” he said, “but to give the city’s legislature, and arguably the public, the information necessary to make informed decisions about pending legislation, the adequacy of NYPD training and use-of-force protocols, and the NYPD disciplinary process.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart