A Manhattan judge has ordered the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to release the number of substantiated disciplinary complaints filed against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold just over a year ago in Staten Island.
The ruling, which addresses complaints made before the chokehold incident last July 17th, settles a lawsuit filed this February by the Legal Aid Society against the CCRB, after Legal Aid Attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook's December FOIL request for the records was denied.
"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 Legal Aid Attorney Tina Luongo, in a statement. "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. Cleary, this needed to change."
The CCRB is an independent city agency that investigates complaints against NYPD officers pertaining to excessive force or abuse of power. The Board initially denied Legal Aid's FOIL request on the grounds that publicizing the records would subject Officer Pantaleo to threats and abuse. From the court documents:
It is absurd to suggest that, in the context of a high-profile wrongful death case, Pantaleo would not be subject to harassment or public humiliation based on the release of the Summary.
The CCRB also referred to a law that protects an officer's personnel records from disclosure without that officer's written consent.
Conti-Cook initially requested the number of complaints, both substantiated and not, brought against Pantaleo, plus any CCRB recommendations related to them. According to court records, the Legal Aid Society sought the information as part of a larger effort "to engage in a discussion with the NYPD to improve its investigative and disciplinary systems." However, she later scaled back her request, asking only for substantiated complaints and recommendations.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger ruled that the CCRB's refusal to release Pantaleo's files was unlawful on two counts. First, the CCRB failed to prove that complaints against Panatelo in fact qualified as "personnel records." Second, Schlesinger ruled that the release would not subject Pantaleo to further abuse, since a video of him administering the fatal chokehold has been so widely circulated.
In December, a Grand Jury voted not to indict Pantaleo in Garner's death. And in the year since the incident, the eight-year veteran of the NYPD has continued to work as an officer (on desk duty), enjoying the protection of a 24-hour security detail and an NYPD-installed home surveillance system. He has also been sued twice for civil rights violations.
A spokesperson for the Legal Aid Society confirmed said there is no set date for when the number of substantiated complaints, and the CCRB's accompanying recommendations, will be released. In the meantime, Pantaleo has expressed interest in getting off of desk duty, and back on the street.