Over the weekend, the NYPD announced that Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Eric Garner in what appears to have been an illegal chokehold right before he died, had been taken off the streets while the incident is investigated. It turns out that Garner’s death, which has prompted a great deal of public anger at the police in general and Pantaleo in particular, is not the first time someone has accused the eight-year veteran of misconduct.
The Staten Island Advance reports that Pantaleo has been sued twice for violating the civil rights of people he’s arrested. In the first case, two men — Darren Collins and Tommy Rice — said that Pantaleo and another officer strip-searched them on a Staten Island street, in the middle of the day, after pulling them over. According to the 2012 lawsuit, Pantaleo and his colleague handcuffed Collins and Rice and then “pulled down the plaintiffs’ pants and underwear, and touched and searched their genital areas, or stood by while this was done in their presence.”
Later, at the 120th Precinct station, Pantaleo and a third cop strip-searched the men again. Collins and Rice’s lawyer, Jason Leventhal, told the Advance that Pantaleo had lied about seeing crack and heroin in their vehicle, which is how he was able to arrest them. Leventhal’s clients (one of whom was carrying crack, though not, as Pantaleo claimed, in plain view) ended up with criminal charges that were eventually dismissed. Meanwhile, New York City shelled out $30,000 to settle the lawsuit.
The details of the second lawsuit, which is still pending, are a bit unclear. The Advance reports that a man named Rylawn Walker sued Pantaleo this past winter for arresting him even though he was “committing no crime at that time and was not acting in a suspicious manner.” Walker, who faced marijuana charges that were later thrown out, also claims that Pantaleo “misrepresented facts in the police reports and other documents that the plaintiff had committed offenses when in fact this was not true.”
Pantaleo’s alleged tendency to be dishonest will probably be less relevant in the Garner case, since there is video of the arrest. Still, the odds of Pantaleo losing his job — or even getting suspended from it — appear slim, at least based on the NYPD’s history of handling chokehold complaints. The New York Times notes that, from 2009 to 2013, the Citizen Complaint Review Board (an independent agency tasked with investigating the behavior of NYPD officers) has received 1,022 chokehold claims. Of those, only nine resulted in administrative trials. Former NYPD chief Ray Kelly declined to discipline the cops involved in eight out of those nine cases. The punishment of the last officer was the loss of some vacation days.