New York City

NYPD overseer reviews suspected chokehold cases

January 12, 2015 By Colleen Long Associated Press
This Dec. 4, 2014, file photo shows Eric Garner protestors walking down West Market street to Broad street. AP Photo/The Star-Ledger, Aristide Economopoulos, File
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The New York Police Department and an independent agency tasked with investigating excessive force claims are inconsistent in determining how and when officers are held accountable for using prohibited chokeholds, according a report being released Monday by the city’s new inspector general for police.

The review comes in the wake of the July death of Eric Garner and is the first report issued by the inspector general, Philip K. Eure. The report does not include the Garner case, which had been under criminal investigation until a grand jury declined to indict the officer, because the watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, has not made any determinations on the case.

The review recommends increased collaboration between the NYPD and the review board to streamline investigations and ensure consistencies.

The report is “a deep-dive into cases involving this prohibited tactic to explore and demystify how these complaints are addressed internally,” Eure said. “Our targeted analysis revealed troubling deficiencies from the top-down that must be rectified.”

The complaint review board investigates claims of officer misconduct and makes recommendations on whether to discipline an officer. Until recently, the NYPD could choose to try more serious allegations internally or ignore them. Under a 2012 agreement, the review board now tries some cases. The police commissioner has the final say on whether to discipline an officer.

The inspector general’s probe of 10 suspected chokehold cases in the past five years found that the review board substantiated all of the chokehold claims and recommended disciplining the officers. But the Police Department did not pursue discipline in most of the cases, according to the report. Instead, most of the officers were instructed on department policy.

The types of cases varied.

In one, from 2010, officers stopped a man in Brooklyn with a group of friends and asked if they lived in the building. The man showed his identification and when officers searched his name, they found an active warrant. A struggle ensued, and the man said he was grabbed in a chokehold from behind. The review board recommended discipline, but the police commissioner instead instructed the officer on policy.

In 2012, a man said he was wrongly frisked as he was walking his bike along a Queens street. When he resisted, an officer put him in a chokehold. The officer was found not guilty at a departmental trial.

The report notes that the review doesn’t try to explain why chokeholds were used, and it doesn’t assume the allegations are true.

It also recommends more transparency by the Police Department in determining why it departs from recommendations by the civilian review board, and it suggests the board be better at informing the NYPD’s internal affairs division about a report of officer misconduct.

Garner died July 17 after officers tried to arrest him on Staten Island on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. An officer is seen on video wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck, then the 43-year-old yelled “I can’t breathe!” 11 times before he loses consciousness. He later died. The officer said he wasn’t using a chokehold, which is banned under NYPD policy, but rather a legal takedown maneuver. A grand jury declined to indict the officer on criminal charges.

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