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Maya Wiley’s candidacy for mayor of New York is largely based on her promise to reform the police department, and she often highlights her one-year tenure as the head of the Police Oversight Agency of the city, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, as proof of its commitment.
In particular, she focuses on the agency’s role in the 2019 sacking of Daniel Pantaleo, the policeman whose strangulation led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 – a flashpoint that has become the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But a review of his time as the head of the agency paints a more complicated picture of his actions in this case and his experience with agent accountability. Critics say the board felt more indebted to city hall during his tenure, and they accuse the agency’s management and performance of suffering.
Ms Wiley has also been criticized for not using her time on the board, where she was chair from mid-2016 to mid-2017, to pursue business more aggressively.
In 2012, the agency recommended charges in about 70 percent of cases. The number declined steadily until 2016, when it was 12%. In 2017, it was 11%, according to agency reports.
During the same period, the agency was much more likely to recommend the training and instruction of officers, one of the less serious forms of discipline. This recommendation was issued in 5% of cases in 2012 and 44% in 2016.
“The dramatic changes in CCRB recommendations over the past three years raise serious questions about the CCRB’s commitment to meaningful civilian oversight,” wrote Christopher Dunn, then Deputy General Counsel of New York Civil Liberties Union, in a 2017 letter to Ms Wiley. .
Commission leaders said they decided to call for less severe penalties in an effort to force police officers to agree to discipline more often. Ms Wiley added in an interview that the city has also broadened the range of disciplinary action that can be recommended, allowing the review board to opt for less severe penalties.
“It’s not really surprising that you see the fees go down because you have more tools, more recommendations for these things which are the less extreme versions of some of these cases,” she said.
Of all the cases before the review board, none have been as heavily loaded or scrutinized as the death of Mr. Garner. It took five years for Mr. Pantaleo, who has never been charged in this case, to lose his job.
Ms Wiley, during the election campaign and in candidate debates, referred to her role in the process that ended with Mr Pantaleo’s sacking, and recently posted an ad titled ‘Breathe’, a reference to Mr Garner repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe” as the police tried to stop him.
In the announcement, Ms Wiley said it was “time the NYPD saw us as people who deserve to breathe.”
At the time of Mr. Garner’s death, Ms. Wiley was acting as counsel to Mr. de Blasio. In this capacity, she was one of his two principal legal advisers, along with Zachary W. Carter, counsel for Mr. de Blasio.
Blasio’s administration opted for a legal strategy of not pursuing its own administrative charges – a necessary prelude to the dismissal of a police officer – against Mr Pantaleo, while the city deferred to the Staten district attorney. Island and federal authorities, who were considering tougher penalties. criminal penalties.
Mr Carter said in an interview that City Hall was unwilling to initiate an internal NYPD Police Department lawsuit that could risk producing testimony that could confuse state and federal affairs.
The decision allowed Mr. Pantaleo to remain on the city’s payroll for five years, as investigations by the district attorney’s office and the civil rights division of the Obama administration’s Justice Department collapsed. are terminated without any criminal charges ever being laid.
Mr Carter defended the administration’s strategy and said it was common for local law enforcement agencies to defer to federal investigators.
He said that when he was the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and was pursuing the Abner Louima police brutality case, he also asked other authorities to suspend their investigations until he’s done with his. Justin Volpe, the officer who sodomized Mr. Louima, was not fired until the day he pleaded guilty, Carter said.
Mr Carter said Ms Wiley was a “conscientious lawyer” who understands that lawyers must obey the law, “when she favors you and when she is not.”
Despite her role in the administration, Ms Wiley blamed Mr de Blasio for the city’s handling of the Garner affair. At a municipal forum hosted by WPIX-TV last month, she said if she had been mayor, “Daniel Pantaleo would have already been out of the force.”
After Ms Wiley joined the Civilian Complaints Commission, she waited until the final months of her tenure to recommend Mr Pantaleo’s termination – three years after his strangulation of Mr Garner and six months after entering into office of President Donald J. Trump. .
It took Mr. Pantaleo two more years to lose his job.
But if she ever advised the mayor to fire Mr Pantaleo more quickly when she was the mayor’s lawyer, Ms Wiley declined to say, citing solicitor-client privilege.
Two people who were in a meeting with the mayor and his executive staff over the Garner case could not recall a case in which Ms Wiley had argued for faster discipline, although she may have. done in private.
Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, said that while Ms Wiley strove to maintain relationships with police accountability organizers while leading the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Ms Wiley was never “out of step. with de Blasio “.
“When you look at the fact that it took five years for Pantaleo to be fired and part of that time was under his supervision, I think a lot of people should be asking him questions about what it was about.” , said Ms. Pierre. “We are not looking for another mayor who is good at rhetoric and bad at accountability.”
Mina Malik, who served as an executive director for two years on the Police Review Board until November 2016, accused Ms Wiley of exaggerating her role in Mr Pantaleo’s dismissal.
“Frankly, that Maya takes credit for bringing Pantaleo to justice is not correct,” she said. “The investigation, suffocation findings and recommendations were made before Maya boarded.”
But other current and former board members have defended Ms Wiley, who also took credit for ensuring that civilian prosecutors on the review board carry the administrative case, rather than law enforcement lawyers.
Angela Fernandez, a former CCRB commissioner whose tenure overlapped with Ms Wiley, said Pantaleo’s accusation was the culmination of Ms Wiley’s leadership.
John Siegal, another CCRB commissioner, still remembers the day the police commissioner ratified an internal judge’s ruling that Mr Pantaleo should be fired.
“I called Maya and said, ‘Congratulations, you were the only public servant in America who used your official responsibilities to move this matter forward,’” he recalls. “The attorney general didn’t. The Department of Justice didn’t, nobody else did, you did. And you must be commended for it.
Ms Wiley’s leadership has also been criticized for allowing the council to make decisions out of the public eye – a criticism that echoed similar assessments of her work as councilor to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As a lawyer, Ms Wiley argued that the mayor’s emails with a group of outside councilors did not have to be disclosed to the public because the councilors were acting as “city agents.” Thousands of pages of these emails were eventually published, much to the mayor’s embarrassment.
Under his oversight at the review board, questions of transparency arose when a much-anticipated report on the use of tasers was released in October 2016.
A draft report that was leaked that spring said police should ban the use of stun guns on handcuffed subjects and noted that officers were using stun guns on unarmed people. But in the final version, released after the draft report was released to town hall and the police department, that language was missing – a change that officials say was part of the usual rewrite process.
In February 2017, Mr. Dunn sent another letter to Ms. Wiley stating that “the board has ceased to engage in meaningful public affairs.”
“In the 16 years that I have attended board meetings and oversaw the CCRB, I have never seen the board relinquish its public responsibilities as it has in the past eight months,” said he wrote.
In an interview, Ms Wiley suggested that if a tragedy similar to Eric Garner’s occurred during his tenure as mayor, she would defer to the Biden administration before acting on her own, just like Mr. de Blasio was in the hands of the Obama administration.
“If for some reason there was any indication that we weren’t going to get any movement, then that would be another story,” she said. “But look, we have the Justice Department’s A team on civil rights right now.”