When Video is not enough: What Does It Take to Indict a Potentially Crooked Cop?

Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

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A fair and logical question considering the one thing we didn’t have in deciding the fate of Darren Wilson was video of exactly what happened before Michael Brown ended up dead; not so in the choking death of Eric Garner. Bystander video clearly shows the altercation between police and Garner beginning to end, including a laughable case of resisting arrest, invoking phrases like please don’t touch me, please leave me alone, trying to simply walk away, meekly pulling his hands away from officers. For this this an officer reaches up from behind wrapping his arm around Garners neck pulling him to the ground in the debated chokehold followed by several officers piling atop him, one putting his knee on the back of his neck while pushing his face into the concrete, as he repeatedly huffs out I can’t breathe, eventually becoming, speechless and motionless on the ground.  Available videos showing after altercation footage easily presumed as undoubtedly contributing to this man’s eventual death; leaving him in distress on the sidewalk for over 7 minutes being one, no attempt to check for a pulse, ascertain if he was breathing, perform CPR, resuscitate a person moments before expressing trouble breathing, multiple police officers seen instead milling about, a particularly brazen one proceeding to rifle through Garners pockets. Still the grand jury midweek last week chose not to indict the New York police officer brought before them. Their decision raising questions about the new push for body cameras to be worn by law enforcement, their potential effectiveness, as well as, the effectiveness of grand juries when it comes to rendering justice and judgment onto police. In fact indictments of police officers involved in shootings, clashes with civilians, the general public, even fatal ones is rare; 2005-2011 there were 2,600 cases of supposedly justifiable homicides by police, only 41 resulting in charges of murder or manslaughter, the latter what outside analysts say should have been leveled here. Why, prosecutors are reluctant to indict police they work day in day out, week in week out with and the law favors police giving them the benefit of the doubt, incredible discretion. Numbers paralleled within New York City itself, where you can find records, because states are not legally required to keep a tally, report, documentation of officer involved shootings and New York is one of several states who doesn’t keep ongoing records. As well the legal system should afford some protection to law enforcement from the excessive, petty nuisance complaint. But Garner’s case goes far beyond the nuisance complaint, far beyond an interdepartmental reprimand for a minor violation of policy, because a man is dead. And still no indictment; video showing it all play out, and still not indictment.


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How is this possible when you have a person, a human being who was alive and well at the beginning of a video being questioned about allegedly selling loose cigarettes and a man who is dead by the end of it; dead not from a hail of bullets visited upon him because he produced a weapon, because he became physical with officers tying to assault them, because he took a hostage or even because he ran, rather because it seems police chose to waste no more time trying to take him into custody peacefully.  How does this happen when you have a man, who was merely verbally combative, saying 11 times he can’t breathe, officers don’t quickly cuff him, then sit him upright, assess his condition; instead the more he speaks the more officers crowd around him, sit on him, try to make various bodily sections part of the sidewalk. Where is the line in using deadly force for police officers when A- there seemed to be no reason to use such a degree of excessive force, as the video clearly shows, and B- one of the lesser charges officer Daniel Pantaleo could have faced actually included the words compression of the neck, partly contributing to Garners subsequent heart attack and death along with compression of the chest according to the medical examiner, who ruled Garner’s death a homicide? Compression of the chest and neck that was, not a byproduct of his resistance, an out and out fight with the police to bring him under control rather a direct result of how he was arrested, with officer after officer piling atop a person who had ceased to put up the pitiful struggle he was putting up before, a man whose only resistance is informing those above him he cannot breath. A case of “resisting arrest” proving that if this is all police ever had to endure they would never need to go out in riot gear, body armor, don a bullet proof vest, the highest stress on their job would be annoyance, not potential PTSD. How does the outcome stand at no indictment when chokeholds have been outlawed in the New York for nearly 20 years owing to their propensity to inflict exactly what happened, unintended death; unfortunately that in itself does not constitute a crime, but it should when the repercussions are a dead man in the street for a misdemeanor, minor offense. Even considering Garner’s history with the charge wouldn’t warrant more than, at maximum, a year in county jail; where is there any justification for then ignoring the suddenly unresponsive man who you deemed so violent, so threatening you had to take him into custody exactly that way? Larger question, why is it public opinion, now juror opinion favors an officer who did this in broad daylight, other officers present, who want to blame the now dead victim because he was breaking the law; juxtaposed beside those who can see something in the system is broken, who have but to view the video and know things have to change?  Never mind if his eventual death constitutes justice in relation to what he stood accused of, it’s like ordering life in prison for jaywalking. Why is it people feel compelled, the grand jury included, to defend an overtly dubious officer because, “if he could get the words out, he could breathe;” a direct quote from the New York City police union leader. The Same union leader who said in defense of Pantaleo the “restraint” he used was not a chokehold but a seatbelt maneuver; though people can hardly remember a seatbelt ever wrapping itself around their neck so tight it managed to choke them. Union leader continuing to contradict video evidence saying that using this maneuver one hand/arm is under the other man’s underarm, the other around his neck and that Pantaleo got off of Garner as quickly as he could; but video shows just Pantaleo’s arm around Garners neck long after he is on the ground lost in a melee of moving arms, legs, bodies mostly belonging to officers. When Pantaleo finally does remove his arm from Garners neck it is to place both his hands on Garner’s head bearing down to keep it in place though it isn’t moving, apart from huffing I can’t breathe. What person could look at the video, see what happened and come to the conclusion that he did nothing wrong, no charges should be filed; what jury instruction, absence of it could leave us at the point of taking to the streets demanding justice, because the courts wouldn’t give it?



Yet again here too jury issues abound, prosecutorial issues abound; maybe that’s the problem, the jury wasn’t paying attention. A witness who shot video showing what transpired between Garner and police alerted media that during his testimony, firstly lasting only minutes versus the roughly 2 hours Pantaleo was on the stand; secondly and far worse, jurors appeared to not be paying attention, were having side conversations, on their cellphones, genuinely disinterested in information he had to give, causing him to feel jurors came in with their minds already made up. Once more we have a defendant in a case irregularly testifying before a grand jury; all of the above sound familiar, it should, it’s almost identical to things said about the jury responsible for Darren Wilson’s no indictment. Further, questions put to the witness, seen as the star witness, if you will, presumably owing to the video and the duration thereof, centered more on facts, observations about Eric Garner, what he was doing, his demeanor, little or no questions asking the same observations, conclusions regarding officer Pantaleo. Questions it would have behooved everyone to ask, jurors themselves if prosecutors would not address the whole picture taking into account this officer has a history of costing the city of New york substantial monies in settlements, investigations; namely a disturbing incident involving the illegal strip search of two African American men accusations of touching their genitals. Another for wrongful arrest still pending; knowledge that should have been afforded the grand jury, should have been exposed had the case gone to trial because it shows a direct pattern of behavior, propensity for violating policy, possible racial bias effecting his interactions with Garner in the negative. Contrasted alongside the rest of New York officers, an overwhelming majority of officers America wide, who aren’t sued by anyone, never kill anyone, go their entire career without firing their gun. Prosecutorially every trial goes through jury selection before it begins attempting to weed out persons with bias one way or another toward the persecution or defense, who have extreme views on subject matter surrounding the trial; common sense assumes persecutors would take the same precautions in selecting grand jury members. And if that’s not the legal system we have, the procedure we have for convening, compiling participants in a grand jury then it is the system, procedure we need. Next analysts are left to wonder why jurors were presented only 2 chargers to consider in determining should this go to trial; their options, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, no more, no less. Legal experts finding close to 6 other lesser charges that could have, arguably should have been added to the list, representing potential justice for Eric Garner; such as assault in the first or second degree, strangulation in the first or second degree, gang assault owing to the sheer amount of police personnel arresting a non-resistant person, first or second degree, reckless endangerment misdemeanor or felony grade. Still returning to the union leader praising Pantaleo, painting him the picture of a model cop, a shining example, one viewer comment sums it up best “He was exactly what those in charge want a police officer to be. Finally, they are admitting they want to kill, abuse and terrorize. Not that we didn’t already know that, of course. The admission that this evil cop is the model is what I’ve been yelling for over 40 years.” Repeating an all too apparent pattern you see another persecutor appearing not to care if he achieves the indictment asked for, uncaring if the jury he’s assembled to hear a case for charges against person X is paying attention in the slightest, only going through the motions simulating justice, the court judicial process.

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True many things contributed to the death of Eric Garner his less than stellar health, his reported history of asthma, his obviously being overweight, his upset, agitation over potential arrest, all surpassed by the actions, blatant inaction of police that day. Certainly the idea a singular officer is solely responsible for the chronicled tragedy is fiction; compounding failure to indict the administrator of the chokehold, there is no indictment for the  also present officers who did nothing to stop Pantaleo from doing something life threatening and against department policy. There is no concurrent indictment for the half dozen or more officers virtually sitting on their hands as a man died right before their eyes; as not only did they leave him motionless on the sidewalk for at minimum 7 minutes completely unresponsive, they failed to administer basic first aid in checking pulse, airway, breathing, respiration on a man who just before said he couldn’t breathe then goes utterly silent, falling into unconsciousness. Aforementioned, an officer choosing to better spend his time rifling through Garners pockets; when asked by onlookers why no one was giving Garner CPR they stated he was breathing. Yet how could they know never having actually checked; equally appalling, when they do speak to him, weakly try to shake him awake, provoke a response they are condescending saying they are there to help, needing him to acknowledge them like he’s doing it, engaging in said behavior, to be obstinate, ornery as opposed to being in medical distress. EMTs who arrive on scene are no better accurately called by commentators the worst EMT team working in America that day, perhaps in the world; continuing in the same vein treating him as if his non-communication is voluntary, flummoxed by basics, how to get him off the sidewalk for example, asking no questions about what happened prior to their arrival, anything that could have rendered him in the state he was in. Not one person possessing a sense of urgency to help this man whose life is literally ebbing away in front of them; where were they in checking those same vital signs, attaching their onboard portable defibrillator, assuming they had one, to check for irregular heartbeats, evidence of possible heart attack? Hardly a huge leap noting his size, incident transpiring in July meaning hot weather, heat stroke could have been another factor.  And where are the charges for the EMT’s holding them responsible for failing so miserably to do their jobs; where is the pulling of their licensures, certifications barring them from ever working as EMT’s again? Last the public heard they were on suspension pending an investigation, an internal matter handled via their employer nothing else. Every officer who sat on, shoved parts of Garners body into the ground should be charged with accessory to the litany of charges available to prosecute Pantaleo; every officer, EMT worker who stood around doing nothing, not following the tenets of first aid should be slapped with an aiding and abetting charge mirroring everything they should have brought against him, our “model” cop seen at one point waving to a bystander camera oblivious to the tragedy he caused, the trouble he could be in, how cold, callus and twisted it makes him look. But Eric Garner remains the architect of his own death due to, according to one senator on Fox news obesity, and mimicking everyone else, for breaking the law then resisting arrest. God help us all if we are ever under arrest.

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Situations mirrored in that of Tamir Rice the 12 year old boy shot in a Cleveland park playing with a realistic looking toy gun; despite initial reports stating officers told him to put his hands up and he refused to comply, video demonstrates there was no time for officers to say anything to him as they rolled up and seconds later opened fire. Critical information given by 911 callers indicating the gun was probably a toy, a tip off this could have been a child never reached officers before arriving on scene thanks to a drastic oversight of the 911 dispatcher fielding the call. Making things much, much worse, allegations by the family of Rice state they left the child on the sidewalk for at least 4 minutes with no aid having been shot in the stomach, even barring both his sister, going so far as to cuff her and put her in the back of a patrol car, and his mother from going to him; Tamir died the next day. And already the character assassination in the court of public opinion begins saying despite his tender age of 12 he should have known, been taught better than to go around pointing a gun at people; remember it’s fake, it’s a toy pellet gun, no reports any pellets were ever shot at anyone. Still the onus belongs to the 12 year old to also be smarter than to remove the orange tip on the end of the gun distinctly marking it as a toy; not thought about, the tip could have fallen off, broken off with use, it is a toy after all.  Others blamed “hood rat,” thug mentality, bad parenting for him not following police commands to put his hands up, according to comment opting to continue waving the “gun” around; apart from that not being remotely what happened, there is likewise the reality there was no reason to react so hastily. Closer scrutiny of the video shows there is no one in the gazebo, people having seen fit to flee the perceived threat, the lone figure is Rice himself; indicating scene assessment would tell them they had time to demand he put his hands up, ask him what he was doing, time to note this was a child, not the approximately 20 year old the officer actually firing the shot reported to dispatch after it was over, little Tamir’s fate essentially sealed. Shockingly, or not so much anymore, the officers responsible for the shooting of Rice had abysmal records; one for a bizarre convoluted story ending in mistaken arrest and a brutality complaint consisting of beating a woman who thought police were near her home responding to her blocked driveway and did not want the man arrested. She was rushed, punched by both the officer and his then partner, the city paying $100,000 in settlement. His current partner characterized in news reports as a rookie turns out is only a rookie at this specific police department; he resigned his previous posting before they could fire him for losing his composure during weapons training, becoming weepy, inability to manage personal stress and an inability to follow orders, directives, feeling instructions are optional. Comments present in his previous employer’s personnel file, comments never known by his current employer, Cleveland PD, because they never looked, lack a standard policy to review pervious personnel files before hire. Adding insult to grievous injury the entirety of the Cleveland police department has been under investigation during the past year for, surprise, surprise excessive force, findings so egregious the federal government is poised to step in; pity they couldn’t have stepped in a few days earlier. These, these are the reasons Tamir Rice is dead not how realistic his toy gun looked, not whether he obeyed officer commands, not his parents parenting style, stereotypical negative ethnic, racial, neighborhood mentality, nor the unfortunate thinking of a young boy. But because protect and serve has become pull gun, think and reason later, serve sure your own small minded, pet peeve laden agenda, your bosses’ get tough on crime regime meaning you round up every petty criminal you come across; you choose the worst way possible knowing you won’t be punished by a system boasting: see we got the criminals.

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<Perhaps in a post-Columbine, a post-Newtown world he should be capable of better judgment; however, the people holding to both claims would possess a better argument if the reality wasn’t this could happen with a bright green, yellow, orange water gun, a purple laser death ray complete with sound effects courtesy of the latest cartoon craze, superhero movie the way cops pay attention, the way they rolled up on Rice and seconds later he was dead. If honest to god research, forget regular viewing of the local, national nightly news, didn’t demonstrate that when police see a black, Latino, minority other than white person holding every day, mundane, benign objects, a wallet, a phone, car keys they instinctively think gun. Persons clinging steadfastly to the mythology Tamir Rice like all the ones before him brought death onto himself removing the orange tip from the pellet gun to make it look more real don’t know, refuse to acknowledge the scores of people teens, children encompassing said numbers shot by police in cases of mistaken identity, mistaking objects in ordinary people’s hands for fire arms. Take the 17 year old ROTC student shot by police when he answered the door with a Wii controller in hand; police were there to serve a warrant for a probation violation on his father and did not identify themselves when he asked who it was, result described above. Compliant people too can run afoul of officers out of control; just ask the man who was shot in the hip while trying to follow officer instructions to show him his license. Because, when he was halted by police he was just exiting his vehicle, he had to duck back into his truck to retrieve the requested item making the officer think he was reaching for a gun; never mind people often keep their registration, proof of insurance (also routinely asked for by police), under the sun visor on the driver’s side or in the glove box, located at the passenger side, not everyone keeps their license on their person while driving, apt to put it in the listed places. Bottom line Eric Garner like Michael Brown didn’t have to die, shouldn’t have died, like so many before them; hints the echo of black lives matter, hints marches, “die ins” across the country, women, mothers of dead sons standing in front of the Department of Justice telling their stories of their slain children while going about their business and somehow running on the wrong side of police then never receiving justice when law enforcement mistake, negligence is uncovered. Black lives, brown lives, minority lives, young lives do matter and it’s time our justice system, our policing system reflected that.





About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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