By David Brand
The NYPD lieutenant who dismissed the death of Eric Garner as “not a big deal” in a text message to a subordinate has himself been named in at least three lawsuits alleging excessive use of force and other misconduct.
The city settled the three suits for a total of $333,000 — including one related to an incident that occurred five days before Garner died.
NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo grabbed Garner and took him to the ground on July 17, 2014 using what the Civilian Complaint Review Board contends was an illegal chokehold. Garner told officers he couldn’t breathe nearly a dozen times during the encounter.
“Not a big deal, we were effecting a lawful arrest,” Bannon, a top cop in Staten Island’s 120th Precinct, texted Sgt. Dhanan Saminath after Garner was finally transported to a hospital. Bannon’s 2014 text messages to Saminath were entered into evidence during Pantaleo’s CCRB trial last month. The disciplinary proceedings resume today at 1 Police Plaza.
“My reasoning behind that text message, not to be malicious, it’s to make sure the officer knew was put in a bad situation,” Bannon said during cross-examination, according to the Daily News. “To try to bring him down to a level where you put him at ease.”
A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges after Garner’s death and the city settled a civil suit with Garner’s family for $5.9 million in 2015.
The city has settled three other lawsuits that claimed Bannon and other officers used excessive force in effecting arrests since 2007, including one for $190,000, another for $130,000 and a third for $13,000, according to court documents. Some of the court documents are available in CapStat, a database of publicly available information related to allegations of NYPD officer misconduct and excessive use of force compiled earlier this year by The Legal Aid Society.
In 2007, Ilich Sanchez and Richard Best won a $130,000 settlement from the city after claiming that NYPD officers assaulted them during a pre-dawn J’Ouvert celebration in East Flatbush in 2005, according to the complaint filed in federal court for the Eastern District of New York. The complaint names Bannon as one of the defendants. The two plaintiffs said they were caught up in a fight that broke out between police and spectators when the officers turned on them.
The two men “were merely standing in the vicinity of the altercation” when the “officers subjected them to physical assaults, and Ilich Sanchez was briefly arrested,” the complaint states. The plaintiffs “suffered psychological and economic injuries, endured great pain and mental suffering.”
Another complaint filed in October 2015 claims that Bannon was part of a team of officers who approached plaintiff Nitetel Defendini in an unmarked car, chased him, tackled him and stepped on his face on July 12, 2014, five days before Garner’s death. The complaint claims the officers concocted false charges against Defendini to justify the arrest and denied him medical treatment.
The charges against Defendini were dismissed after the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute. The city settled the suit for $13,000, according to court documents.
The city settled a third lawsuit originally alleging excessive force against Bannon and other officers for $190,000 in December 2018, though the plaintiff abandoned the specific excessive force claim against Bannon before reaching a settlement.
Alfred Vitalone sued the city after he said he was “unlawfully and without just cause, approached, accosted, assaulted, falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned” after he was pulled over while driving with his fiancee and in-laws in Staten Island.
The officer who pulled Vitalone over said he was using a cellphone while driving, according to the complaint. He wrote Vitalone a ticket, but Vitalone argued that he had not been using a cellphone. The officer ordered Vitalone to get out of the car, but he refused. The officer then called for backup and Vitalone agreed to exit the vehicle when the other officers arrived.
He said the officers grabbed him after he stepped out of the car, brought him to the ground and arrested him, according to court documents. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The officers used “false information and evidence” as the basis for criminal charges and lied in their police reports, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in May 2016.
The New York City Law Department declined to comment on the three cases.