Ex-CCRB directors say DOJ decision won’t influence Pantaleo trial judge

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo prepares for his departmental trial in May. He faces charges for choking Eric Garner. AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo prepares for his departmental trial in May. He faces charges for choking Eric Garner. AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File

By David Brand

Two former Civilian Complaint Review Board directors say they do not think the federal government’s decision in the case of the NYPD officer accused of choking Eric Garner in 2014 will influence the judge presiding at the cop’s administrative trial.

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo faces disciplinary charges for administering the chokehold that led to the death of Garner, whose last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry in the movement to stop over-policing and police brutality against people of color.

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday — the day before the fifth anniversary of Garner’s death — that it would not bring charges against Pantaleo, who avoided a Staten Island grand jury indictment in 2014. His case is currently under review by Judge Rosemarie Maldonado after the CCRB prosecuted him for using excessive force when choked Garner and dragged him to the ground.

Maldonado, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for trials, will issue a recommendation to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who makes the ultimate decision on whether to penalize Pantaleo — either by firing him or docking vacation days.

Former CCRB Director Tracy Catapano-Fox, now a judge in Queens Civil Court, said the timing of the Department of Justice’s decision was “odd, especially when Maldonado still hasn’t made her ruling on the CCRB case.” But she said she believes Maldonado will not be influenced.

“I’ve seen her try cases,” Catapano-Fox said. “She’s very fair and she does try to eliminate the public sentiment from the decision that she makes.”

Mina Malik, who led the independent oversight agency as executive director from early 2015 until she resigned in 2016,  also said Maldonado was an even-handed judge. 

“When I was at the CCRB, Rosemarie Maldonado was the administrative judge there already, and I found her to be very fair,” Malik said. “I think that the case will be looked at with the objective eye it deserves and I don’t think the DOJ decision will influence the outcome of the administrative trial in any way.”

Malik, a candidate in last month’s Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, directed the CCRB for a significant portion of its Pantaleo investigation and findings. She denounced the DOJ’s delayed decision. 

“People, particularly the Garner family, have been waiting for justice for a long time and they’ve had this hanging over their heads for five years — five long years — only to find out there will be no justice for them in the end,” she said.

Catapano-Fox was fired from the CCRB in October 2014, the same day she filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment against women in the CCRB. Malik also sued the CCRB for harassment, prompting then-Chair Richard Emery to resign over his demeaning comments to women.

Though a bystander recorded the violent incident on video, US Attorney Richard Donoghue said Tuesday that “insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that Pantaleo and fellow officers violated federal civil rights law.

CCRB Chair Fred Davie called that decision and its timing “an utter travesty” in a statement.

“Our last hope for justice in this case lies with the Police Commissioner,” Davie said. “CCRB prosecutors presented evidence at trial that showed — unequivocally — that Officer Pantaleo engaged in misconduct worthy of termination.”

“Regardless of the political motivations for the Justice Department’s failure to act, its decision should have no impact on the NYPD’s disciplinary process, which has a different standard of proof,” he continued. “For the sake of justice and police accountability in the City of New York, the Commissioner must fire Daniel Pantaleo from the New York City Police Department.”