By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A new inspector general blasted the New York City Police Department on Monday for failing to punish officers who used banned chokeholds on citizens, sometimes as a first response in a confrontation.
The first official report by police Inspector General Philip Eure comes a month after New York was shaken first by a grand jury’s decision not to indict an NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner and then by the killing of two NYPD officers by a gunman avenging the Staten Island man’s death.
It looked at 10 recent cases in which the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent agency tasked with investigating excessive force claims, concluded officers used chokeholds, which are banned by Police Department regulations. The cases were investigated between 2009 and July 2014 and do not include Garner’s death on July 17, 2014.
Among the 10 cases was a Bronx high school student who was walking away from school officials disciplining her on Jan. 8, 2008, and was placed in a chokehold by a police officer assigned to the building, the report said.
Another was a man “rapping” with friends in front of a city low-income housing building in Brooklyn on Aug. 26, 2009, who made a comment to passing police officers and was placed in a headlock that restricted his breathing, the report said.
In nearly all cases studied, the CCRB recommended the most serious level of discipline, administrative charges, but ultimately none of the cases resulted in the charges being filed. Instead, the NYPD imposed punishments typically ranging from Police Academy training to loss of vacation days to no discipline at all.
“NYPD largely rejected CCRB’s findings and recommendations and, thus, mooted CCRB’s role in the process,” the report said.
“The police commissioner routinely rejected CCRB’s disciplinary recommendations in substantiated chokehold cases without explanation,” it said.
Harsh criticism was leveled at officers who, in several of the cases studied, used chokeholds “as a first act of physical force in response to verbal resistance, as opposed to first attempting to defuse the situation.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, accused of contributing to an anti-police climate, said the report predates his coming to office a year ago.
“I believe it refers to things that have already begun to change,” de Blasio said.
The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association police union, Patrick Lynch, who blamed de Blasio for tensions with police, noted the report promised a wider investigation in the future to determine whether the problem is systemic.
Until then, Lynch said in a statement, the initial findings should only be viewed as 10 isolated cases that reveal “the dysfunction and anti-police bias that is rampant in the investigations conducted by the CCRB.”
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Eric Beech)