The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau is recommending that Officer Francisco Garcia face internal charges for punching and tackling Donni Wright, a groundskeeper with NYCHA, during a social distancing stop on the Lower East Side earlier this month.
"The internal investigation is recommending discipline for several members of the Department involved in the incident. Charges are expected as early as next week," an NYPD statement reads. "New York State law prescribes the process for these disciplinary proceedings. The Department will adhere to the law, ensure due process for all involved and go wherever the facts take us."
On Friday, Wright's attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, said he filed a notice of claim against the city and Officer Garcia for $40 million in damages.
"In addition, we believe what is more important is for this police officer to be held accountable for what he did to Donni Wright, and we call on the District Attorney of Manhattan to open a criminal investigation," Rubenstein told Gothamist.
Prior to Friday's lawsuit, Officer Garcia has been the subject of at least seven misconduct lawsuits in the past five years, costing city taxpayers nearly $200,000, according to the Legal Aid Society.
Danny Frost, a representative for Manhattan DA, Cy Vance Jr., said, "We are conducting an independent review of this incident."
Asked to react to the NYPD's announcement about departmental charges, Rubenstein said, "At this point in time all we know about Officer Garcia is that he's been placed on desk duty and his salary continues to be paid."
He added, "Donni Wright is lucky he didn't become a George Floyd—the officer sat on his face and neck. That could have killed him."
On Thursday night, dozens of New Yorkers were arrested in Lower Manhattan while protesting the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed during a low-level police stop after a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. "I can't breathe," Floyd told the officers, who ignored him. Chauvin was arrested on Friday and charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called for charges to be brought against the officers involved in Floyd's death.
The mayor's swift and specific calls for justice in Floyd's case contrast with his handling of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who fatally choked Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014.
It was five years after Garner's death before Pantaleo was fired from the NYPD. In those five years, de Blasio adamantly refused to call for the officer's dismissal, instead blaming the Department of Justice for a procedural misstep.
“I’ve been really clear about the fact, we made a mistake, I made a mistake in believing the U.S. Department of Justice would do its job. When the city took over, there was due process, there was a trial," de Blasio said on Friday.
At his daily briefing on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that while he did not approve of "arson" or "thuggery," he agreed with people protesting racist policing across the country.
"I'm with the protesters," Cuomo said.
Neither Cuomo or de Blasio have expressed support for repealing a New York State law that keeps police disciplinary records secret from the public—one of the most stringent in the country. De Blasio and the NYPD in fact, lobbied against pending state legislation that would increase police transparency across the state.
"Minnesota is actually more transparent than New York with respect to police records," said Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project.
Wong called the internal disciplinary charges against Officer Garcia "a symbolic gesture that is prompted by political expediency."
"What's gonna happen with NYPD misconduct charges when the news is not centered around police accountability issues?" Wong said. "I don't think that it really solves the larger issue, which is the lack of accountability and a lack of trust."