If a police officer has a record of substantiated misconduct, should this information be made available to the public? Yes, according to State Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger. She ruled this week that the basic findings of misconduct against NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who held Eric Garner in a chokehold, should not be kept hidden from public disclosure.
The decision by Schlesinger was dated July 17, the same date as Garner’s death last year, and found that the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s defense that the officer’s records were protected by Section 50-a of the State Civil Rights Act did not fit the provision.
She wrote that the CCRB had failed to demonstrate that such disclosure would be an abrogation of Pantaleo’s rights. “Given the unique facts and background of this matter (particularly the existence and wide dissemination, of the video of the incident) and the limited nature of the request,” Schlesinger wrote, “the court finds that the city failed to demonstrate this potential.”
Even before Garner’s death, the Legal Aid Society, under the Freedom Information Act, had inquired about the number of complaints against Pantaleo, and they had been substantiated by the CCRB. According to several reports, the city has 30 days to file an appeal, which is likely.
With or without an appeal, the debate about police misconduct—which has become a national issue—will continue, said Tina Luongo of the Legal Aid Society, which she said is mainly because of the “CCRB’s strict policies against disclosing individual officer misconduct.”
An article Wednesday in The Chief, the civil employees’ weekly newspaper, taken from the Staten Island Advance, reports that Pantaleo, who is on restricted duty, has been sued three times. In June 2014, Pantaleo crashed a police car into another vehicle on Staten Island, causing injuries to the driver. According to another claim, in March 2012, Pantaleo and another officer strip-searched two men to their undergarments outdoors and then flicked their genitals as if searching for drugs. The city settled this case for $30,000. In February 2012, two men charged that Pantaleo and other officers stopped them “based on false representations by Mr. Pantaleo. Both lawsuits claim that the plaintiff was also subjected to a degrading search of his private parts and genitals.”
Ever since the grand jury refused to indict Pantaleo (the case is still under investigation by the Justice Department to determine if Garner’s civil rights were violated), there has been a call for transparency. Stretching a state law to cover the misconduct of police officers is at the core of the Legal Aid Society’s battle with the CCRB.
There has been no indication from the court that Police Commissioner William Bratton, who has the final decision in disciplining officers, will be approached to weigh in on this matter.