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New York police chokehold complaints 'not punished'

Esaw Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, speaks during the National Action Network National March Against Police Violence in Washington 13 December 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Esaw Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, speakers during a protest against police killings

A review of the New York police's recent chokehold cases has found discipline recommended by a complaints board was very often not followed.

In seven out of 10 cases studied, a prosecutor or the police commissioner imposed lesser punishments on officers who used chokeholds, which are banned

The report is in response to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by police.

The practice is banned by the New York city police department.

The report, the first issued under the newly formed police inspector general's office, warns its review is an initial inquiry and a broader review of how prevalent chokehold complaints are and how officers have been disciplined is required.

Eric Garner's death is not included in the review.

Inspector General Philip Eure called the report "a deep-dive into cases involving this prohibited tactic to explore and demystify how these complaints are addressed internally".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many of the discipline recommendations were ignored by former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly

A watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), investigates claims of officer misconduct and makes recommendations on whether to discipline an officer.

Since April 2013, the review board now tries some cases, but police commissioner has the final say on whether to discipline an officer.

The report found the CCRB had substantiated all 10 claims, occurring over five years, and recommended the highest disciplinary action to be taken against the officers involved in nine cases.

But in seven instances the police department's prosecution office or the former police commissioner himself imposed lesser action or no discipline at all.

In the remaining three, one officer died before any final decision was made, one was found not guilty by the CCRB's prosecution unit and one is still pending.

The report also notes officers used chokeholds - "whether neck grabs or headlocks or some other contact with the neck or throat - as a first act of physical force in response to verbal resistance, as opposed to first attempting to defuse the situation".

The review recommends more transparency by the police department when it departs from the discipline recommendations by the civilian board, but also recommends the board improve its own record of informing the city's internal affairs division about reports of officer misconduct.

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