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De Blasio Would Veto Chokehold Bill, But Councilman Says He Can Override

By Jeff Mays | January 15, 2015 1:35pm
 Eric Garner died after an officer used a chokehold on him while trying to arrest him in Staten Island.
Eric Garner died after an officer used a chokehold on him while trying to arrest him in Staten Island.
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New York Daily News

NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would veto legislation that would make the use of chokeholds by police illegal, but the Queens councilman sponsoring the legislation said he may have enough votes to override the mayor's objection.

Under legislation proposed by Rory Lancman, officers caught using a chokehold — defined as wrapping the hands or arms around someone's neck and compressing their windpipe to restrict the flow of air or squeezing their carotid artery to interrupt the flow of blood — would face misdemeanor charges.

De Blasio said he is opposed to the current legislation because he believes an officer in a "death struggle" with a suspect should be able to use all available means in self defense. Police Commissioner William Bratton also strongly opposes the bill.

"I'm not going to create a situation where an officer is in that life and death struggle, and, thank God, survives, and then faces criminal charges. That's unacceptable," the mayor added.

The NYPD has had a departmental prohibition on the use of chokeholds since the 1980s. Officers caught using the procedure are currently subject only to administrative discipline from the department or the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

De Blasio said his administration remains "adamant about making sure the NYPD rules and regulations are followed, which prohibit the use of chokeholds in any normal interaction between police and community."

However, recent reports from the CCRB and Office of Inspector General say that discipline is not meted out to officers who use chokeholds.

The CCRB report found the use of chokeholds by the police has doubled since 2001 while only 10 of more than 1,100 chokehold complaints received by the CCRB from 2009 to 2013 was substantiated.

The NYPD Inspector General report examined the 10 substantiated chokehold claims and found that the disciplinary policy around chokeholds delivered inconsistent results.

The police commissioner routinely rejected CCRB recommendations regarding discipline for the use of chokeholds without explanation.

In several of the cases examined, the prohibited chokehold was used as a "first act of physical force" by the officers involved.

"We've had a departmental prohibition against chokeholds since the mid-80s. How's that working?" Lancman said in response to de Blasio's claims that a departmental ban is the best policy.

Officers would still be able to explain in court if they used the chokehold in a life and death situation, said Lancman.

Lancman said the bill, which has yet to be scheduled for a hearing, has broad support in the council with 29 co-sponsors. Two thirds of the council, or 34 votes, would be required to override a de Blasio veto.

"If we have 29 people willing to sign on then we have a bunch of others willing to vote for the bill. I don't want to play threat and counter threat with the mayor. It's early in the process," said Lancman.

De Blasio said he felt that opposition to the bill from himself and Bratton would sway council members.

But both Lancman and de Blasio indicated they were open to compromise.

Asked if he would add a provision to the bill that excluded officers in life and death situations from prosecution for using a chokehold, Lancman said he was open to the "give and take" of negotiations.

The mayor said he would be willing to review a different bill on the topic.

The legislation was inspired by the death of Eric Garner. The 43-year-old Staten Island man died in July after an encounter with police for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. The medical examiner's office said a chokehold by police helped to cause his death.