Legislators are demanding to know what is holding up an internal NYPD investigation of an officer caught on video beating a bystander in the Lower East Side following a social distancing enforcement encounter in May.
It's been nearly four months since Officer Francisco Garcia -- a plainclothes officer with a history of misconduct complaints and lawsuits filed against him -- was captured on video slapping Donni Wright, who objected to Garcia's arrest of a man for not social distancing. Garcia then proceeded to hold down Wright by kneeling on his head in an incident that bore similarities to the death of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd's death led to massive protests across the country, including New York City. Wright's arrest also underscored the racial disparities in arrests for social distancing when the NYPD was tasked to enforce it. They've seen been ordered to stand down.
Wright was arrested and was charged with assaulting an officer, menacing, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, and disorderly conduct.
Councilmember Carlina Rivera, whose district covers the area where the incident occurred, demanded the officer be fired given the video evidence and the investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau.. Rivera has since asked Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to terminate Garcia, who was placed on modified duty. Rivera says her calls have gone ignored and she’s worried the investigation will drag on much like the case against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer caught on video placing a chokehold on Eric Garner in Staten Island, killing him. Though the incident took place in 2014, state and federal investigations dragged on for years. Pantaleo was fired in 2019 by then-NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.
"It's a disgrace that six years after the death of Eric Garner and his justice denied, the de Blasio administration continues to deny justice to Black and brown communities," said Rivera. "Unfortunately, the NYPD continues to ignore our calls for justice for Donni Wright and his family, but this can't come as a surprise. We're dealing with an agency that has consistently withheld evidence from the CCRB and has fought public transparency tooth and nail. I'm hopeful that with the federal court's recent ruling on 50-A, that any additional information about Garcia and his past misconduct will help pressure the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio, and the Manhattan DA to fire him and potentially press charges."
Other elected officials demanding to know what is holding up the IAB case against Garcia include Representative Carolyn Maloney and state Senator Brad Hoylman, who both represent the district.
"You'd think that the City would have learned a lesson after taking five years to fire Daniel Pantaleo after the death of Eric Garner, but sadly, we're not seeing that yet," said Hoylman in a statement.
Wright's case continues to be investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Garcia now faces a $40 million civil case filed by Wright's attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, who told Gothamist that a criminal probe should proceed and should not languish in the same way the Garner case did.
"The police department should make determinations regarding discipline, irrespective of whether or not a criminal probe has been completed," said Rubenstein. "While the city is in fact in dire economic straits that doesn't mean that victims should absorb their damages when they're brutally assaulted by police. Victims are entitled to the damages. But wouldn't it be better if that money, instead of being spent to compensate victims for pain and suffering and pay in medical expenses, loss of wages, if that money is used to retrain police and to improve police community relations?"
The NYPD did not offer any details on the status of the investigation to Gothamist. In a statement, NYPD spokesperson Sgt. Jessica McRorie said Garcia remains on modified duty.
"The disciplinary process is ongoing," said McRorie.