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It Took NYPD a Year to Reveal it Punished Eric Garner Officer in Prior Case

By Murray Weiss | April 4, 2016 7:18am
 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 — The officer at the center of the chokehold death of Eric Garner was given a slap on the wrist by the NYPD in a separate stop-and-frisk encounter — a move that's only becoming public nearly a year after the penalty was meted out, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo was found guilty of making an “unauthorized frisk without legal authority” during a stop that pre-dated the Garner tragedy and was ordered to forfeit two vacation days on March 11, 2015 — just as the city was reeling from anti-police demonstrations.

The penalty — less than the eight-day "minimum" recommended by the CCRB — was only made public recently on NYPD official “Personnel Orders” dated Feb. 26, 2016.

Historically, the NYPD publishes and circulates its personnel actions within weeks, if not days, of any disciplinary action.

Police officials insist the delay was not deliberate, and resulted from the department dealing with a voluminous personnel order backlog that goes back to before Commissioner Bill Bratton returned to the NYPD in January 2014.

"Officer Pantaleo's case was treated no differently than any other, and it moved along within all the rest that were caught in this backlog," a department spokesman said, explaining that the NYPD is in the midst of "trying to reconcile the various components that move the paperwork along and streamline the process."

Pantaleo's lawyer, Stuart London, expressed surprise at the delay in revealing his client's punishment, but declined to speculate what might have occurred at Police Headquarters.

A former top police official noted that "if their inefficiency was the problem, then it was very fortunate for the NYPD and city because, if that (decision) was thrown into the volatile mix last year, when the city was on edge about Garner and police misconduct, the department would have been further demonized and the city further divided than it already was.”

And even if the two-day punishment was exactly the right thing to do, "it was certain to ignite a lot of people," the ex-top official concluded.

According to NYPD and CCRB records and sources, Pantaleo, then 26, was working in the 120th Precinct on Staten Island on June 26, 2012 in Park Hill. He and his partner “recognized someone they might have seen in the past” and stopped, questioned and then searched a pocket where they noticed a bulge.

Although they found nothing in his pants, Pantaleo then ran his hand around the man’s waistband, found nothing and let him go.

Following the encounter, the individual filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. On July 26, 2013, Pantaleo was officially charged with conducting a stop-and-frisk without “lawful authority.”

On March 18, 2014, a CCRB Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Trials found Pantaleo not guilty for making the stop, but ruled that he was “guilty” of making an “unauthorized” search “without lawful authority” when he ran his hand around the man’s waist after finding nothing in his pocket.

The CCRB commissioner recommended the officer lose no fewer than eight vacation days.

While Pantaleo awaited his fate, however, he and a team of officers encountered Garner on July 24, 2014, in the now-notorious fatal incident captured on video that prompted widespread unrest in the Big Apple and in other cities around the country.

The atmosphere worsened in December 2014 when a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in Garner’s death. Two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were executed in their squad car shortly after the decision.

Pantaleo’s previous stop-and-frisk conviction eventually wound its way to a conclusion on March 11, 2015, when Bratton signed off on the loss of two rather than eight vacation days.

Meanwhile, Pantaleo, 30, remains on desk duty awaiting a decision by the feds whether he should face federal civil rights violation charges in Garner's death.

His fate will separately be decided by the NYPD whether to allow him to remain a member of New York's Finest.