The man who killed Eric Garner, Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, is a public servant. Your taxpayer money pays him to be a police officer. He works for government; he works for you. In these divisive days in our politics, one thing Democrats and Republicans always agree on is Supreme Court Justice Brandeis’ famous phrase “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” In other words, transparency, shining a light on government, is the best way to avoid waste and corruption. Yet many states, including New York, carve out one huge exception: Police officers (the cop exception, of all things, is contained in the Civil Rights Law).
Our former associate Cynthia Conti-Cook, requested that the Civilian Complaint Review Board – the CCRB – provide a summary of all the substantiated civilian complaints made against Officer Pantaleo, and what the CCRB did in response to the substantiated complaint. The CCRB denied the request, citing the Civil Rights Law. So Cynthia took them to court, and won!
The CCRB is supposed to be an independent city agency to investigate police complaints. If so, why did they fight so hard, and try to stretch the law protecting Officer Pantaleo’s “privacy”, to the breaking point. Any fair reading of the statute can only lead to the conclusion that the CCRB was required to disclose the information to the public.
The public clearly has a right to know at least a summary of Officer Pantaleo’s record of substantiated complaints prior to Garner incident. The public has a right to evaluate NYPD’s handling of the complaints, and whether if there were red flags in Pantaleo’s disciplinary history, the killing of Eric Garner could have been avoided. Indeed, it is not only our right, but our obligation as citizens to evaluate the actions of our police department – a government agency which holds the power of freedom or imprisonment, life and death, over our fellow citizens.
Sadly the CCRB took the side of “no”, you don’t have the right. Thankfully, Cynthia and the New York County Supreme Court said “yes”. You can read the opinion here.