POLITICS
01/12/2015 02:34 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

NYPD Routinely Rejected Discipline In Chokehold Cases, Report Finds

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- In January 2008, a teenage high-school student in the Bronx had an argument with her principal. An NYPD officer assigned to the school quickly arrived to subdue the unruly student.

What happened next was caught on video: The officer put the student in a chokehold.

The NYPD's patrol guide expressly bans chokeholds. But the departmental prosecutor declined to seek internal discipline in the case. That decision was part of a larger pattern at the NYPD in the five years leading up to the July death of Staten Island man Eric Garner, according to a report from the department's new inspector general.

"Our targeted analysis revealed troubling deficiencies from the top-down that must be rectified," Philip Eure, the inspector general, wrote in a letter released Monday.

Time and again, Eure's investigators found, New York police officers resorted to chokeholds first -- often for the crime of merely questioning the officer's authority. And time and again, the NYPD ignored discipline recommendations from the independent agency that investigated civilians' chokehold complaints.

"NYPD bans on chokeholds and other practices are meaningless if officers aren't held accountable for continuing to use them," Priscilla Gonzalez, organizing director of the group Communities United for Police Reform, said in a statement. She applauded Eure's report and called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton to take immediate steps to impose sterner discipline.

The results of the inspector general report mirror those of an October report from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the independent investigative agency. Both reports examined 10 substantiated chokehold cases, and both concluded that the NYPD imposed at most a loss of vacation days as a penalty.

The inspector general's report delved further into the police department's rationale for seeking lower or no penalties for chokeholds. In the case of the 19-year-old high schooler, for instance, the department decided not to seek an internal prosecution in part because the student "was being difficult."

Disturbingly, in several cases police officers placed civilians in chokeholds "as a first step to overcoming verbal resistance." In one case substantiated by the CCRB, a police officer responding to a 911 call stopped a man walking out of a convenience store in the Bronx. The man said that he had not done anything illegal, but the officer quickly placed him a chokehold.

In other cases, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly rejected punishment for officers who employed chokeholds without explanation. Before a rule change last year, the report said, "the Police Commissioner had authority to impose discipline with absolute discretion under the cloak of full authority."

The report was the first from the NYPD inspector general, a position created by the New York City Council in August 2013.

Eure's supervisor, Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters, noted in a letter accompanying the report that it was "completed in the shadow" of the ambush killing of two city police officers on December 20. He promised future reviews of police use of force, surveillance of religious and political groups, and police encounters with the mentally ill.

"(N)either the NYPD's virtues and successes, nor its acknowledged importance to our civic life, should be used to prevent a discussion of genuine problems," Peters wrote. "One can respect the NYPD and still seek to address the legitimate concerns of the communities it serves."

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