[h=1]Wickham: Silence of good cops widens divide[/h]5:01 p.m. CST January 1, 2015
When Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped to the podium Saturday to eulogize Rafael Ramos, one of two New York City cops killed by a black gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, five days before Christmas, hundreds of police outside the church staged a silent protest that sullied the solemn occasion.
The officers turned their backs to the large televisions set up for the overflow crowd to see Ramos' funeral. Their pivot away from the screens was meant as a protest against the mayor, whom Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, accused of having blood on his hands for not being more supportive of the city's police officers.
That charge and the lemming-like act of back-turning were cheap shots that came as the city grieved the death of Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot to death as they sat in their patrol car. The officers' deaths came in the wake of a series of street demonstrations following a grand jury's decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a white New York City police officer who was videotaped using a chokehold to subdue Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, whose death was labeled a homicide. Pantaleo and several other cops were attempting to arrest Garner for illegally selling untaxed cigarettes.
In his first public comments after the grand jury's decision, de Blasio said he could relate to the pain Garner's father was feeling and admitted that he and his wife, who is black, have warned their son about how "to take special care in any encounters he has with the police officers, who are there to protect him."
That's a warning many black parents routinely give their boys — and one that de Blasio, understandably, would offer his mixed-race son. They could also have reminded him that New York has long been a petri dish for police abuse of blacks. Remember Abner Louima. Amadou Diallo. Patrick Dorismond. Sean Bell.
While the others, all unarmed, died at the hands of New York City cops, Louima survived his encounter. In 2001, he won an $8.75 million settlement for the ghoulish abuse he suffered while in the custody of New York City cops. Wrongly identified as the person who struck a cop during a brawl outside a Brooklyn nightclub, Louima was taken to a police station and sodomized with a broomstick by an officer, who then forced the soiled handle into Louima's mouth.
The police union was forced to pay $1.6 million of that judgment after it was accused of conspiring to cover up the sadistic attack on Louima.
If you think that's old news, consider this: In an interview last week of 25 current and former black New York City cops, all but one said they had been racially profiled (many of them multiple times) while off duty by white officers. These random stops didn't stop until earlier this year, when de Blasio agreed to discontinue the practice, which during a 12-year period targeted more than 5 million people. Most of them were black and Hispanic men. Just 10 percent of these "stop and frisk" victims were charged with a crime or given summons. Only about 2 percent of them were found to be carrying a weapon.
While the vast majority of New York City's cops, I believe, are good law enforcement officers who treat people with dignity, their silence has widened the divide between New York City's majority white police force and its mostly minority residents.
Rather than demand that rogue cops be removed from their ranks, this silent majority accepts the union's embrace of the department's rotten apples. Instead, the union resorts to blaming de Blasio — and not the chokehold that took Garner's life — for sparking Brinsley's senseless violence.
As long as New York's good cops do nothing, the city's bad cops will continue to trash their reputation.
DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication, writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.
Even when used alone, extended prone restraint—placing a suspect facedown, hogtied or with hands cuffed behind—has caused untold in-custody deaths by suffocation and is therefore prohibited by many police departments, including the NYPD.
When New York City police arrested and subdued Eric Garner, he fit a profile: an uncooperative black man committing a petty crime. But the profile that police should have recognized—and the one that Garner fit perfectly—was of someone vulnerable to a dangerous combination of banned law enforcement practices used routinely across the country with impunity, and sometimes fatal results.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it was not the chokehold alone that killed Garner. And it was not solely Officer Daniel Pantaleo who was responsible for the homicide of the unarmed 43-year-old African-American man arrested for a “quality-of-life” offense under “broken windows policing” that encourages arrest for even the most trivial crimes—in Garner’s case, selling “loosies,” unpackaged cigarettes, on a Staten Island street.
The video of his death, which went viral and sparked protests, shows Pantaleo’s arm tightened around Garner’s neck. It also shows a cluster of officers, including Pantaleo, kneeling on Garner’s back and pressing his face, mouth and nose to the pavement as he lay facedown, hands cuffed behind him, pleading— at least 11 times—“I can’t breathe.”
The Office of the City Medical Examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, citing both “compression of neck (chokehold) [and] compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
First, about the chokehold: According to his lawyer, Pantaleo told the official inquiry he “never exerted any pressure on the windpipe.”
His denial, even if true, is largely irrelevant. There are two main types of chokeholds, and during a struggle, one may easily slide into the other. Pressure to the windpipe—an air choke—directly cuts off the ability to breathe and can kill quickly. Pressure to the veins and arteries of the neck—a blood or carotid choke—stops blood flowing to and from the brain and cuts off its oxygen.
Both holds can kill, and that is why, back in 1993, the NYPD banned them. Chief John F. Timoney, then commander of the department’s Office of Management Analysis and Planning, said: “Basically, stay the hell away from the neck. That’s what [the policy] says.”
And then, Garner’s second cause of death: positional asphyxia caused by “compression of chest and prone positioning.” Even when used alone, extended prone restraint—placing a suspect facedown, hogtied or with hands cuffed behind—has caused untold in-custody deaths by suffocation and is therefore prohibited by many police departments, including the NYPD. But when officers also kneel or push on the restrained person’s back or neck, as they did with Garner, the danger of positional asphyxia escalates. And when the suspect has been pepper sprayed, is intoxicated or has medical conditions such as Garner’s—obesity, asthma and a weak heart—the danger skyrockets.
Dr. Michael Baden, former NYC chief medical examiner and later State Police chief forensic pathologist, who was hired by the Garner family to review the autopsy report, told the New York Times: “Obese people especially, lying face down, prone, are unable to breathe when enough pressure is put on their back. The pressure prevents the diaphragm from going up and down, and he can’t inhale and exhale.’’
The cell phone video shows that even after Pantaleo released the chokehold, and Garner was cuffed, hundreds of pounds of cop flesh pushed down on him. His struggle against that weight was evidence not of vitality and aggression, but rather of desperation to change position so that he could breathe.
“The natural reaction to oxygen deficiency occurs—the person struggles more violently,” a 1995 National Law Enforcement Technology Center bulletin warned. The struggle aggravates the asphyxia by increasing the heart rate and causing carbon dioxide to build up in the lungs.
Ill-trained or angry police who double down on restraint when a handcuffed captive thrashes are clearly violating procedure. “As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach,” the NYPD’s Guidelines to Preventing Deaths in Custody state. “Turn him on his side or place him in a seated position. If he continues to struggle, do not sit on his back.”
The fact that Garner had medical conditions increasing his vulnerability to positional asphyxia was not readily knowable. But that he was obese and struggling to breathe—even after the chokehold that compromised him was released—was obvious. That, once handcuffed and down, he was not immediately turned over or allowed to sit up was both a violation of long-standing policy and, ultimately, homicidal.
And by failing to act after Garner became comatose, police further violated policy—and possibly the law. The NYPD patrol guide warns that officers are required to “intervene if the use of force against a subject clearly becomes excessive. Failure to do so may result in both criminal and civil liability.”
The FBI issues similar injunctions. To avoid in-custody injury or death, officers should “monitor subjects carefully for breathing difficulties/loss of consciousness. Be prepared to administer CPR. Obtain medical assistance immediately.”
“He didn’t die because he stopped breathing on his own,” said his sister, Ellisha Flagg. “He died because someone took his breath away.”
And the EMTs who arrived on the scene made no effort to give it back. Faced with the limp, unconscious man, they were bizarrely passive, failing to apply an oxygen mask, to ensure that Garner’s airway was clear or to assess his condition in any way beyond seeking a pulse.
Prone restraint and resulting positional asphyxia have been implicated in numerous in-custody deaths on the street and in prisons. And if police departments are unmoved by compassion, they might consider liability. Even though officers escape criminal charges, civil courts have levied millions of dollars in settlements.
In 2013, Ethan Saylor, who had Down syndrome, refused to leave a Maryland movie theater because he wanted to see the film again. Three off-duty sheriff’s deputies forcibly removed the 294-pound disabled man. “They placed him [facedown] on the ground,” his mother Patti testified before a Senate committee, “prone restraint, put handcuffs on, and my son died of asphyxiation on that floor of that movie theater for that $10 movie ticket.”
Police used prone restraint on: Jonny Gammage, a Pittsburgh man, at a traffic stop; Charles Dixon, an Altoona, Pennsylvania man, after a disturbance at a birthday party; Oral Brown, who was found wandering disoriented in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after his car crashed; and Tanisha Anderson, whom Cleveland police were taking for a mental-health evaluation after her parents reported she had disturbed the peace. All died from positional asphyxia in what amounts to institutionally protected homicide.
In 1999, Brian Drummond, who was unarmed and mentally ill, ended up inva permanent vegetative state after cops subdued him.
“Although he had offered no resistance, Officer Brian McElhaney put his knees into Mr. Drummond’s back and placed the weight of his body on him. [Officer Christopher Ned] also put his knees and placed the weight of his body on him, except that he had one knee on Mr. Drummond’s neck,” the Drummond v. City of Anaheim trial transcript noted. Drummond “repeatedly told the officers that he could not breathe and that they were choking him.” One eyewitness testified, “The officers were laughing during the course of these events.”
The 9th Circuit Court concluded in 2003: “The compression asphyxia that resulted appears with unfortunate frequency in the reported decisions of the federal courts, and presumably occurs with even greater frequency on the street.”
More than a decade later, it seems little has changed. Acts of commission and omission by each of the many police who participated in or witnessed Garner’s arrest represent not only individual culpability, but a systemic failure of training or compliance.
It was “all the police [on the scene], not just one police officer, that would have caused the obstruction to breathing,” forensic expert Michael Baden told Fox News.
By blaming only the chokehold, Pantaleo’s fellow officers and much of the media threw one cop under a bus that carries a heavy cargo of ignorance, aggression, profiling, and needed reform.
The NYPD officers who petulantly turned their backs on the mayor and held work slowdowns added to the impression that the force is out of control, and left the public justifiably wary of trusting police with their lives.
[h=1]EXCLUSIVE: Brooklyn dad who claims NYPD cops put him into a chokehold settles lawsuit against city for $75,000[/h][h=2]Kevin Dennis-Palmer said he was put into a chokehold and attacked by NYPD officers after he attempted to park his car near his Brownsville home Feb. 9, 2013. Dennis-Palmer also said he was not sure why he was being stopped because he hadn’t done anything wrong.[/h] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york...aims-nypd-put-chokehold-75k-article-1.2083487
Staten Island Supreme Court Justice William Garnett writes that, should he release grand-jury records in the death of Eric Garner, The Post “would merely publish all, or part of, the minutes and might use them as grist for its editorial mill.”
Let’s be clear: However good our “mill” might be, it is no reason to keep the facts from the public in this case of utmost public interest.
And our “compelling and particularized need” for the records lies in our nature as a New York newspaper — to bring such facts before the public, so that each citizen can judge for him- or herself.
Judge Garnett writes that continued secrecy will prevent the grand jury from being subject to “unbridled speculation” about its integrity.
Sorry: Such “unbridled speculation” has been rampant from the instant the grand jury’s decision was released, if not before.
People across the city and the nation continue to second-guess the jury’s findings — without having heard the evidence that was presented to it.
Indeed, many made up their minds the moment they saw the viral video of Garner being subdued by Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
What everyone hasn’t seen are the three other filmed recordings. The grand jurors viewed them, but they haven’t been released.
The city medical examiner’s full report also remains secret, as does the testimony of over 50 witnesses.
As the judge himself noted, grand-jury secrecy “is not sacrosanct.” Courts have the power to open the records in extraordinary cases. We believe this is one of them.
That’s why The Post joined other parties in asking for the records to be opened: to restore what a previous judge in the request called “the heart of the case” — public trust in our criminal-justice system.
Yes, some others seeking the records’ release suspect chicanery of some kind. We strongly doubt that, and expect that releasing the records would prove it.
Above all else, though, we want the facts made public so all New Yorkers can judge for themselves in so important a matter.
Garnett says releasing the records would be unfair to Pantaleo. Yet the officer himself has said through his union that he “would like everyone to hear what the grand jurors heard” because “it’s the truth.”
The judge may believe that the high legal bars to overturning grand-jury secrecy have not been met here, but one simple fact remains:
Keeping the Garner grand-jury records sealed will only further erode public trust in the justice system’s ability to get it right.
We do not look forward to having to keep running that ugly fact through our editorial mill.