By: Nardos Mesmer
The recent decisions of grand juries not to indict two police officers—NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, and Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown in Missouri—have sparked protests throughout the city and the nation. As a result of those cases, some protestors and politicians have argued that such cases should go to special prosecutors, since local district attorneys work with police and may not be willing to aggressively pursue indictments for excessive force.
So a recent case in Crown Heights is worth revisiting. On November 3rd, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson obtained indictments of two NYPD officers who are charged with assaulting a 16 year old boy. Thompson, as it happens, is also the D.A. seeking a grand jury hearing in the case of the rookie NYPD officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley November 20 in an East New York public housing stairwell.
In the case of the Crown Heights assault, here is how events unfolded: On August 29, Officers David Afanador, 33, and Tyrane Isaac, 36, were seen on a surveillance camera chasing 16-year-old Kareem Tribble.
In the video, at about 2:20 a.m., Tribble is seen fleeing from the cops, then suddenly stops and walks toward the policeman said to be Officer Isaac. Isaac then makes an attempt to punch the Tribble, and the teenager raises his hands. As the teen drops backwards and then to the ground, a police officer said to be Officer Afanador arrives on the scene with his gun drawn. He is accused of hitting the teen in the mouth with his gun while Officer Isaac continues to punch the teenager.
On the surveillance video, the cop who appears to be Officer Afanador is then seen placing the gun in his holster and walking out of the camera shot. As the teen is being placed in handcuffs, Officer Isaac is seen punching him again.
A third officer in the surveillance, said to be Sgt. David Jones, is seen standing nearby and has been named a witness in the indictment.
According to Deputy Commissioner Joseph Reznick of NYPD’s Internal Affairs, the two officers who allegedly assaulted the teenager were part of an anti-crime unit from the 77th precinct. The police officers were in an unmarked police car, patrolling the neighborhood, when they reportedly saw Tribble throw a bag of marijuana and begin fleeing.
Officer Afanador faces a felony charge of second-degree assault and two misdemeanor charges: official misconduct and fourth degree criminal possession of a weapon. According to the indictment, Afanador’s intent to cause physical injury include “knowingly and unlawfully possessing a metal firearm with the intent to use it against Kaheem Tribble.” During the criminal investigation, the firearm recovered was a service revolver. How, then, is a police officer indicted on criminal possessions of a weapon if it’s his duty to carry a firearm? Lupe Todd, communications director for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, said that although the service revolver was authorized for Officer Afanador to use on duty, “allegedly, a loaded gun was used in the process of hitting Mr. Tribble in the mouth” which warrants the charge. The gun could have gone off, Todd noted. If convicted, Officer Afanador faces up to seven years in prison.
Officer Isaac is not charged with any felonies, but faces two misdemeanors—assault in the third degree and official misconduct. If convicted, Officer Isaac faces up to a year in jail.
After the indictments, District Attorney Ken Thompson said in a press release that, “By beating a 16-year-old boy with their gun and fist after he raised his hands apparently to surrender, these police officers not only violated his rights but also trampled on their sworn oath to serve, protect, and uphold the law,” and that “We must all adhere to the rule of law, which applies to everyone, including police officers, as this indictment makes crystal clear.”
In an interview with Reuters, Amy Rameau, the attorney for Tribble, told reporters that some of her client’s teeth were broken and that he was bloodied and bruised from the assault. “These cops are operating with impunity. They think they can run amok,” Rameau told Reuters. “I hope this will send a message.”
In an investigative story published on December 8th, the New York Daily News reported that over the last fifteen years, out of 179 fatalities involving on-duty NYPD officers, only three cases led to indictments. Some 27 percent of those deaths involved unarmed suspects. Where race is known, 86 percent of those killed were black of Hispanic.
“There’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Robert Gangi, executive director of the Prison Reform Organization told the Daily News. “The police and DA work very closely together, and so they need each other to carry out their jobs.”
The Eric Garner case has sparked particular outrage in New York. The Staten Island native was seen in a video recorded by a bystander that shows Officer Pantaleo putting Garner in a hold around the man’s neck. Garner’s death, according to Julie Bolcer, city medical examiner spokeswoman, was ruled as a homicide caused by “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” Asthma, heart disease, and obesity were contributing factors in the death of the 43-year-old Garner, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound father of six, Bolcer said. The Staten Island grand jury cleared the NYPD officer in the death of Garner, dismissing all charges against Pantaleo.
Nationwide, morale in the black community, when it comes to police accountability for misconduct, is low. In an August Pew Research national survey, 70 percent of blacks believe police departments do a poor job holding police officers accountable for misconduct, and 57 percent of African-Americans believe the police department do a poor job using the proper amount of force.
Support for police officers in the white community is also low. In the same study, only 37 percent of the community believes police forces nationally do a good job of holding officers accountable for misconduct.
But the survey found a drastic difference between the races in the level of confidence in police forces not to use excessive force. It found that 74 percent of whites have a great deal or fair amount confidence in police officers not to use excessive force compared to 36 percent of blacks.
Meanwhile the Brooklyn D.A., Ken Thompson, pledged in a public statement that he will “conduct a full and fair investigation” in the fatal police shooting of Akai Gurley and “give the grand jury all of the information necessary to do its job.” Publicly disagreeing with those who’ve requested special prosecutors to handle police cases like the Akai Gurley case, Thompson vowed, “I was elected by the people of Brooklyn to do this job without fear or favor and that is exactly what I intend to do.”
In the Crown Heights beating case, both cops are scheduled to go to trial on February 25th in the Kings County courthouse. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant D.A. Marc Fliedner, Chief of the District Attorney’s Civil Rights Bureau, and supervised by William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigation Division.