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


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.

It is unclear what charges the officers, including Francisco X. Garcia, will face in connection with the investigation of the May 2 incident in the East Village, one of several police encounters that led to accusations of racial bias in the enforcement of social distancing, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss an internal police investigation.

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 would 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 decision to recommend departmental charges came as the death of Mr. Floyd and others at the hands of the police and white vigilantes continued to spur demonstrations, including in New York City, where 72 people were arrested during protests on Thursday night and hundreds marched on Friday afternoon.

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 a spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said on Friday that prosecutors had dropped the case on May 18. The spokesman, Danny Frost, said prosecutors were still reviewing the officers’ conduct.

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 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 in Manhattan, Mayor Bill de Blasio 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 during a news conference with the police commissioner at City Hall. “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 New York City’s 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 to fire Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Mr. Garner in a in a chokehold.

On Friday, after rioters in Minneapolis burned a police precinct, Mr. Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Officer Garcia remained on desk duty.

Regardless of what charges are brought against Officer Garcia and his partners, how their cases are resolved may remain secret because police disciplinary records are shielded under state law. Mr. de Blasio has called for the law to be repealed, but has not gone to Albany to lobby for change.

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 was delayed for five years as police waited for state and then federal prosecutors to decide charges. In December 2014, a Staten Island grand jury decided against criminal charges, and a federal civil rights probe ended in 2018 without charges.

The police administrative judge presiding over the hearing found that Mr. Pantaleo, who did not testify, had been “untruthful” during his mandatory interview with internal affairs. He was fired in August.

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,” he said, “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.”

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.

Gwen 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.”

Jan Ransom contributed reporting.



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