A report released by NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure on January 12 found “alarming” use within the department of a long-banned chokehold technique.
According to the inspector general’s analysis of selected complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, police officers in several instances not only used chokeholds — banned by department policy since at least 1993 — but also resorted to the dangerous maneuver relatively quickly in their interactions. The report notes that several officers in the ten cases reviewed “used chokeholds as a first act of physical force and in response to mere verbal confrontation.”
The report examined all ten of the chokehold complaints received since 2009 that the CCRB ultimately “substantiated,” or found to have merit after an initial review. One of those complaints was the subject of a story the Voice wrote in September of 2014 involving Angel Martinez, a 24-year-old Brooklyn resident who says he was choked and roughed up during an encounter with police in 2012.
See also: ‘I Was Choked by the NYPD’
The CCRB makes recommendations about officer discipline, but the NYPD commissioner has the final say on when and how officers are ultimately punished. The new inspector general report confirms what the CCRB said in its own chokehold study, released in October of last year, which found that officers were rarely disciplined in cases where chokeholds were alleged and that the commissioner at the time of the complaints in question, Ray Kelly, often ignored CCRB recommendations. In every one of the six cases to have so far made it through the entire CCRB review process, the commissioner “departed from the disciplinary recommendation of CCRB, imposing a less severe penalty or, in two cases, no penalty at all.”
Neither study can say definitively how common the practice is, but at least 1,128 other unsubstantiated chokehold allegations were submitted to the CCRB over the studied period.
The report describes a number of troubling scenarios:
— In 2008, a nineteen-year-old high school student in the Bronx was slammed against a wall by a police officer and then held by her throat for three to four seconds. Though both a CCRB panel and a secondary review by an NYPD body recommended disciplining the officer, the commissioner ignored that recommendation and issued no punishment.
— In 2008, a fifteen-year-old boy was choked by an officer while handcuffed to a metal bar in a Bronx precinct house. The commissioner rejected disciplinary recommendations in that case too, and the officer was not punished.
— In 2009, another handcuffed suspect was choked by an officer after he told the arresting officer that he was “not doing his job properly.” That officer later died before the case was concluded.
Once a common technique among departments nationwide for subduing suspects, chokeholds have received intense scrutiny since the July 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was stopped for selling loose cigarettes. Garner was placed in an apparent chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo and suffered injuries that were later ruled to have caused his death. A Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo for his role in the incident set off an ongoing series of protests in New York and cities across the country.
The inspector general’s report says the office began looking into chokehold use by the NYPD immediately after Garner’s death. It is so far the only report the IG has produced; the position was created just last year as an outgrowth of the furor surrounding the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. Independent both of the CCRB and the NYPD’s command, the new position was fought vociferously by former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who forced a united City Council to override his veto.
The officer involved in Martinez’s case was found not guilty of the chokehold allegations against him in October, though other aspects of the case are ongoing, and he has a lawsuit pending in federal court. The CCRB does not release rulings or other documentation that would shed light on why the administrative judge in the case decided to clear the accused officer. A recent ruling by the city’s law department, which restricted public access to previously public documents, also makes it more difficult to assess how Martinez’s case, and others like his, were ultimately resolved.
Read the rest of the report below:
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 14, 2015