Cop Not Indicted in Chokehold Death, LAPD Chief Blames Officers in Shooting of Unarmed Man, No More DNA Swabs for Felony Arrests, and Undermining PREADecember 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
GRAND JURY DOES NOT INDICT NYPD OFFICER IN CHOKEHOLD HOMICIDE OF ERIC GARNER
On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a plainclothes NY police officer whose prohibited chokehold on an unarmed man, Eric Garner, proved fatal.
Garner was stopped by officers on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. A video of the incident, shows Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, telling officers over and over that he can’t breath while being held down by officers. And the city medical examiner’s autopsy found Garner’s death to be a homicide, with the chokehold as the main cause of death.
Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice announced that it would launch a separate federal investigation into Garner’s death.
The NY Times’ J. David Goodman and Al Baker have the story. Here are some clips:
The fatal encounter in July was captured on videos seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.
Officer Pantaleo appeared before the grand jury on Nov. 21, testifying that he did not intend to choke Mr. Garner. He described the maneuver as a wrestling move, adding that he never thought Mr. Garner was in mortal danger.
After the news from Staten Island, a wave of elected officials renewed calls for Justice Department intervention, saying the grand jury’s finding proved that justice could only be found in the federal courts.
On the streets of the city, from Tompkinsville to Times Square, many expressed their outrage with some of the last words Mr. Garner uttered before being wrestled to the ground: “This stops today,” people chanted. “I can’t breathe,” others shouted.
While hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Manhattan as well as in Washington and other cities, the police in New York reported relatively few arrests, a stark contrast to the riots that unfolded in Ferguson in the hours after the grand jury decision was announced in the Brown case.
The officer targeted by the Staten Island grand jury said in statement that he felt “very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” just as he told 23 panelists of the grand jury when he testified before them for two hours on Nov. 21.
During the proceedings, jurors were shown three videos of the encounter and in his testimony Officer Pantaleo sought to characterize his actions in tackling Mr. Garner not as a chokehold, but as a maneuver taught at the Police Academy. He said that while holding onto Mr. Garner, he felt fear that they would crash through a plate glass storefront as they tumbled to the ground, said Stuart London, his lawyer. One of the officer’s arms went around Mr. Garner’s throat, as Mr. Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
LAPD CHIEF SAYS OFFICER SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN AFTER CHASE VIOLATED DEPT. RULES
Back in California, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says three officers’ fatal shooting of an unarmed man after a car chase was in violation of department policy. Officers opened fire after Brian Newt Beaird, a National Guard veteran, had turned away from them. The officers said they feared for their lives when they shot Beaird, but Chief Beck says the evidence suggests otherwise.
Now, Beck must decide if he is going to punish the officers (and if so, what level of punishment to hand out), or if their actions warrant firing them from the department.
The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:
Although the details of their recollections differed, each officer told investigators essentially the same thing: He shot at Beaird because he thought Beaird was armed with a gun.
One officer, who fired eight rounds, said he believed Beaird was actually shooting at police. In a detailed account of Beaird’s movements, the officer said Beaird had reached under his shirt and seemed to be pointing an object back at the officers from beneath his clothing. That, coupled with the sound of gunshots, led the officer to conclude Beaird was shooting, according to the report.
Beck, however, found “the evidence and actual actions of the suspect” contradicted the officer’s account.
The other two officers both said they saw Beaird reach for his waistband and make “a jerking motion.” Fearing that he had grabbed a gun, the officers fired, the report said.
In judging the officers, Beck said he took into account that they went into the encounter knowing Beaird was seen reaching for an unknown object during the pursuit. He also highlighted the chaos of the scene, including a geyser of water from a broken hydrant and the din of helicopters.
Although the officers had only seconds to act in the difficult conditions, Beck ultimately found their decision to shoot was unreasonable. “Each officer is accountable for their own use of force,” he wrote.
APPEALS COURT SAYS DNA SWABS AFTER FELONY ARRESTS VIOLATE STATE CONSTITUTION
In a 3-0 ruling, the SF First Court of Appeal has struck down a California law requires DNA cheek swabbing of anyone arrested on suspicion of committing a felony. A related Maryland law upheld by the US Supreme Court mandates swabbing only once a person is charged with a serious felony. And unlike in California, the DNA info is removed from the database in the case of an acquittal or dropped charges.
Bob Egelko has more on the ruling for the SF Gate. Here’s a clip:
The First Court of Appeal in San Francisco had struck down the same law in 2011, but California’s high court ordered it to reconsider the case after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 upheld a Maryland law requiring DNA samples from anyone charged with a serious felony. The majority in that 5-4 ruling said swabbing a suspect’s cheek for genetic material was a “minor intrusion” that served the same identification purposes as fingerprints, the argument Attorney General Kamala Harris also used to defend the California law.
But in Wednesday’s ruling, the appeals court said DNA samples, containing “the most personal and confidential information a person can possess,” are not used to identify suspects. Rather the samples, which typically take a month to analyze, while fingerprints take less than a half hour, are used to investigate suspects’ possible involvement in other crimes, as part of a national database accessible to police and the FBI.
TAKING THE EDGE OFF THE PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION ACT
The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003, and brought about a set of “zero-tolerance” standards to eliminate rape in state and federal prisons, which took a decade to nail down and approve.
In May of this year, states were required to either pass an audit, or promise to pass compliance in the future. Only two states passed their audits. States that refuse to comply altogether—as Texas and five other states have—forfeit 5% of their prison funding.
But a report released last Friday from the United Nations Committee Against Torture points out that the rates of sexual violence in US lock-ups have not changed much since 2007, and expresses concern at the mediocre implementation of PREA.
The Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo has more on the issue, and also highlights an under-the-radar battle to further delay PREA and throw out the financial consequences for noncompliance. Here’s a clip:
…A proposal that originated in the Senate Judiciary Committee would almost completely eliminate financial penalties for states that defy the rape prevention law. The proposal, written by Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas — the most vocally defiant state — was agreed on by the committee in an after-midnight session in September and was attached to an unrelated bill.
The bill carrying the PREA amendment failed to pass, but members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a federal body that spent years developing the PREA standards, say efforts are already underway to reintroduce the amendment during the next legislative session.
In a November letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Commission members requested a meeting to “discuss our grave concern about recent efforts to delay or weaken effective implementation” of PREA. So far, six states are refusing to comply with the standards: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Texas, and Utah. The letter goes on to point out that only two states have certified compliance, while forty-six states and territories have submitted assurances to eventually comply, which allows them to keep their funding.
“But those assurances will become hollow — and states and territories may not make them — absent the threat of financial penalties for failure to become compliant,” the Commission wrote.