STATEN ISLAND — A Manhattan judge ordered the city's NYPD watchdog agency to turn over the disciplinary record for the officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.
Judge Alice Schlesinger wrote in a decision, dated on the anniversary of Garner's death, that the Civilian Complaint Review Board did not have sufficient reason to deny the Legal Aid Society's Freedom of Information request for a summary of complaints and actions against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
"If our government, through the Civilian Complaint Review Board and New York Police Department, has a record of substantiated misconduct by Officer Pantaleo that pre-dated Mr. Garner's death, the public has a right to know about it," said Tina Luongo, head of criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society.
"The ongoing debate about the effectiveness of our current systems of police accountability is happening largely in the dark due to the CCRB's strict policies against disclosing individual officer misconduct, even when it has been substantiated by their own investigation," she continued. "Cleary, this needed to change."
The judge did not say when the records would be released.
In its filings, the CCRB wrote that it denied the Legal Aid Society's request because it's a personnel record used to evaluate performance and is exempt from disclosure.
Last month, Pantaleo, 30, filed an affidavit stating that he has a 24-hour watch outside his home, surveillance cameras installed and a panic button inside in case of emergencies. He complained that already-released CCRB records about him have lead to harassment, including a Michigan man threatening to behead him, the Daily News reported.
In her decision, Schlesinger wrote that the information should be released because it doesn't appear to be personnel records and they shouldn't cause any more threats to Pantaleo than the video of Garner's arrest.
[T]his court believes that any adverse reactions expressed toward Mr. Pantaleo have their roots in the video of the incident, which speaks for itself, and, thereafter, in the Staten Island Grand Jury's subsequent decision not to indict him," Schlesinger wrote in her decision filed Wednesday.
"Moreover, the court believes that any backlash in response to the release of the Summary, while improbable in the first instance, is more likely to be directed at the NYPD, which would have received CCRB's recommendations, than at Pantaleo."
In February, the Legal Aid Society sued the CCRB to release the records after the agency denied a Freedom of Information request in December.
Aside from the CCRB records, the Legal Aid Society joined other groups to push the courts to release the Garner grand jury records. The release was denied by Judge William Garnett in a Staten Island court, but the parties have taken the fight to an appellate court.
Garner, 43, died last year while in police custody after he was arrested for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island street. The dramatic video shows Pantaleo putting Garner in an apparent chokehold and wrestling him to the ground as Garner pleas "I can't breath" numerous times.
In December, a grand jury ruled not to indict Pantaleo for Garner's death.