MANHATTAN — Federal prosecutors will have a difficult task indicting NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo on civil rights charges following the death of Eric Garner, legal experts say.
That’s because law enforcement officers are given wide latitude when “acting under the cover of their job,” a former prosecutor explained.
“No way is this a federal civil rights offense,” said another lawyer, who is one of the city’s top criminal defense attorneys who has frequently done battle against New York’s Finest. “There is no way the feds can say it was Pantaleo’s intent to violate Mr. Garner's rights when this incident occurred."
Pantaleo, he said, was taking action against Garner when the Staten Island man repeatedly refused to be arrested, which the eight-year veteran was required by NYPD rules to do.
“Pantaleo has every right to try to arrest him,” a third attorney, close to the Garner case, said. “The fact that Garner died is a tragedy, but a grand jury now has determined there was no crime nor criminal intent. The statute says intent, and there is none.”
The most recent case where federal prosecutors indicted a police officer on civil rights charges was in 1994 when Officer Francis Livotti was accused of the choking death of Anthony Baez. Livotti confronted Baez after his football hit the officer's squad car.
Livotti served seven years in federal prison on the civil rights charge despite being acquitted in state court.
More recently, federal officials declined to take action in 2006 following the fatal shooting of Sean Bell. The feds determined the officers involved in the Bell shooting were taking police action, albeit using questionable tactics.