Cop who pressed a knee into bystander's neck leaves NYPD

Ashley Southall, The New York Times

Posted at Oct 30 2020 08:34 AM

Police officers on bicycles deployed in Queens, May 2, 2020. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the police had used enforcement authority properly on social distancing violations, but other officials expressed concern about tactics similar to unfair “stop and frisk” practices. Victor J. Blue/The New York Times

NEW YORK — A New York City police officer facing misconduct charges for kneeling on a bystander’s neck during a social-distancing arrest has retired, according to the victim’s lawyer and the officer’s labor union.

The officer, Francisco X. Garcia, was scheduled to appear at a departmental hearing this week on misconduct charges stemming from the May 2 incident, which fueled an uproar over racial disparities in how the police enforced social-distancing measures.

But instead, Garcia retired Tuesday, avoiding proceedings that could be used against him in a criminal investigation of the incident underway in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Garcia, 32, refused to comment Wednesday. His decision to leave the force was first reported Wednesday by the New York Daily News.

A police official confirmed that Garcia had retired and would no longer face a disciplinary hearing.

In May in the East Village, Donni Wright, 34, of Manhattan, was on his way to a deli and was standing several yards away from where police were arresting another man and his female companion.

Although police initially said the arrest was over social distancing, officials later revealed the couple — Shakeim Brunson and Ashley Serrano — were suspected of selling drugs. They were arrested on weapons and marijuana charges that prosecutors later dropped.

As other officers restrained the couple, Garcia approached Wright, pointing a Taser, and pressed its trigger, a video showed.

After putting the Taser back in its holster, Garcia slapped Wright down to the ground. He then knelt on his neck and back, a maneuver similar to the one used in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Officers charged Wright with assaulting a police officer. But prosecutors dropped the case and opened a criminal probe of Garcia’s conduct.

At a news conference outside the housing command on the Lower East Side where Garcia was assigned, Wright called on prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the officer.

“He should be charged just like if I got in trouble, I’d get charged,” Wright said, adding that the encounter still deeply affected him. “I could have lost my life.”

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Sanford Rubenstein, Wright’s lawyer, said in an interview that criminal charges would show officers all over the country that if they brutalize people “not only will you lose your position as a police officer, but you also become subject to criminal charges and very well could end up in jail.”

Danny Frost, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said the investigation was ongoing.

Two other officers face misconduct charges stemming from the incident, but the Police Department has not disclosed their names or the status of their cases.

The Police Department’s swift effort to discipline the officers was unusual. It had been customary for the department to wait for state and federal prosecutors to wrap up their criminal investigations before beginning disciplinary proceedings. Cases have often dragged on for years; Daniel Pantaleo was fired five years after using a banned chokehold on Eric Garner in 2014.

Rubenstein said he believed the protests against police brutality that followed Floyd’s death had forced the Police Department to move more quickly to discipline officers. Had he not retired, Garcia could have been forced to testify at his departmental hearing, and prosecutors would have been able to use his statements in the criminal investigation, Rubenstein said.

“I believe that all of the protests and the demonstrations have made a difference because policy has changed,” he said.

State law also allows Garcia to keep any pension benefits he has accrued during his eight-year career. Had he been fired, he might have lost those benefits.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, the labor union representing Garcia, accused the mayor and top police officials of leaving the officer “holding the bag for their own failures.”

“We warned them that sending cops out to enforce their half-baked public health policies would create a backlash. They didn’t listen, and now yet another police officer’s career has been cut short by politics,” Lynch said. “Is it any wonder that thousands of cops are heading out the door before the same thing happens to them?”

 

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