In response to the loud chorus of calls for NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo to be fired for killing Eric Garner, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly stressed the need to let “due process” run its course. He is referring to the NYPD’s departmental trial of Pantaleo, which concluded in mid-June.
As de Blasio stated on Hot 97’s “Ebro in the Morning” show yesterday: “There is a law that everyone gets due process. You would want it, I would want it, everyone gets it.” The mayor then explained that it’s the NYPD commissioner’s decision, not his, whether to fire an officer.
Because Commissioner James O’Neill is awaiting the department judge’s recommendation, de Blasio also said the decision won’t happen until “next month.” O’Neill is not obligated to follow the trial judge’s decision.
Very little of the process described by de Blasio matches any conventional understanding of due process. There are no criminal charges here, and the only question is whether Pantaleo will lose his job (and perhaps his pension). While there were adversarial arguments made before the trial judge, the fact that her recommendation is merely advisory also makes it unlike any criminal proceeding.
What de Blasio is emphasizing are the due process protections that most unionized public sector employees share. Essentially this means that cops, teachers, etc. can’t be fired without a hearing. This makes de Blasio’s position that “everyone gets due process” a major distortion, as anyone who’s ever been canned at a non-unionized private sector job can attest.
The self-styled progressive mayor is taking his cues here from his regressive first police commissioner, Bill Bratton. Shortly after former tennis star James Blake was pummeled by a plainclothes officer James Frascatore in Manhattan in September 2015, Bratton and de Blasio convinced Blake — who was calling for Frascatore to be fired — that the officer nevertheless had “due process rights” that must be followed.
Earlier this year, when Blake learned that Frascatore — who, like Pantaleo, had a long record of prior misconduct complaints — received a light punishment from O’Neill after a departmental trial, Blake blasted the “outrageous” disciplinary process. In general, O’Neill has not been a forceful disciplinarian.
But on at least two occasions, O’Neill has driven out officers accused of misconduct. In the high-profile Coney Island “Anna Chambers” case of 2017, the two officers initially accused of rape resigned before the departmental trial. And last summer, O’Neill fired Ritchard Blake, an NYPD sergeant with 18 years on the force, two weeks after Blake planted evidence in the aftermath of shooting Thavone Santana in Brownsville.
In the Chambers case, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez eventually dropped the rape charges against officers Eddie Martins and Richard Hall. But according to Martins’ attorney Mark Bederow, the officers resigned because they knew that they were facing a “rushed show trial” by the NYPD.
According to Bederow, “it was obvious from the beginning that given the leaks, political climate and actions of the Brooklyn DA’s office, [the two] were going to be tried, convicted and terminated” by the NYPD. Less than a week after the DA’s office indicted the pair, the officers went to One Police Plaza and learned that the department trial would begin right away.
If that trial upheld the rape charges, O’Neill told CNN at the time, “I would have fired them immediately.”
The Pantaleo proceedings, of course, have been anything but “rushed.” NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Trials Rosemarie Maldonado appears to be in no hurry to deliver her advisory recommendation to O’Neill. By contrast, a Bronx judge deliberated over last weekend before delivering his ruling in a high-profile murder trial.
As the departmental case against Pantaleo has needlessly dragged on, the NYPD — with support from de Blasio — has reinterpreted the state’s 50-A law, making it harder to access disciplinary records of NYPD officers. So the winners in the long slog are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and other opponents of accountability.
Ultimately, all the dithering by de Blasio, O’Neill and company regarding Pantaleo confirms one simple point: the outcome of this process is long overdue.