A Bit Of Justice

Baez settlement doesn't address police brutality

On October 8, former police officer Francis Livoti will be sentenced by federal judge Shira Scheindlin and could face up to 10 years in prison for violating Anthony Baez's civil rights during a struggle in 1994 that resulted in Baez's death. Livoti, who continues to maintain his innocence, is already serving a seven-month sentence at Rikers Island for a1993 assault. Coming on the heels of last week's $2.94 million settlement of the Baez family's wrongful death suit against the city of New York, it is unclear whether the settlement will have any bearing on Livoti's sentencing this Thursday. But if the city is setting a precedent in dealing with police brutality, activists are far from satisfied.

''[Livoti's] sentencing may have a further ripple effect on getting accountability from the police,'' said NYCLU executive director Norman Siegel. ''But there is no real evidence that there is systemic change.'' Baez's mother, Iris, who would only concede a ''bit of justice'' was served, announced the family would set up a foundation to monitor police brutality cases. ''I think we react from crisis to crisis in this city,'' said Baez lawyer Susan Karten. ''We don't have an overall policy, and I know if the mayor can deal with rising crime rates, he could do the very same thing with police brutality.''

What ultimately undermined the city in the civil lawsuit brought by the Baez family was the testimony of Livoti's former commanding officer William Casey. ''Chief Casey had the courage to recommend back in 1990 and '91 that Livoti be taken out of the 46th Precinct,'' said Karten, who took Casey's deposition. ''That recommendation was directly countermanded by his superior Louis Anemone.'' That made it possible for Justice Douglas E. McKeon to rule that ''the events which gave rise to the tragic death of Anthony Baez were part and parcel of a police enterprise,'' and not allow the city to separate itself from responsibility for Livoti's actions. Though the city may have settled because they felt their position was untenable, it also conveniently squashed the possibility of Chief of Department Anemone, who reportedly protected Livoti, from testifying before the jury. ''What the city does in these cases is they settle,'' said Siegel. ''The reason is they don't want the full story told publicly.''

According to a Human Rights Watch report on police brutality issued this summer, the city paid about $70 million in awards for claims alleging improper police actions between 1994 and 1996, about a 30 percent increase from the previous three years. Since the city pays into a police union civil legal defense fund, taxpayers foot the bill for officers who commit abuses. ''Unless this money comes out of the police department's own budget, they're never going to get the message,'' said Karten.

Although an investigation by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White into alleged perjury by Livoti's fellow officers in his criminal trial may have spurred an Internal Affairs investigation of a similar cover-up in the June squeegee-man shooting, the underlying causes and warning signs of police brutality seemingly aren't being addressed. Officer Michael Meyer, who is charged with the attempted murder of ''squeegee'' man Antoine Reid, had nine complaints before the shooting, and David Gross, who shot at water-gun wielding Michael Jones Jr. 16 times, has had six CCRB complaints.

Richard Perez, a longtime community activist, said of the settlement, ''I think the fact that this case was resolved means the community prevailed, not that the system worked.''

 
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