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Why Is New York Still Paying Eric Garner’s Killer Six Figures?

Daniel Pantaleo remains with the NYPD four years after Garner's death.

Demonstration after grand juries failed to indict the police officers involved in the death of Michael Brown and of Eric Garner.
Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images.

Why Is New York Still Paying Eric Garner’s Killer Six Figures?

Daniel Pantaleo remains with the NYPD four years after Garner's death.

July marked the fourth anniversary of Eric Garner’s death. The city of New York is still paying NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo—the man who put Eric Garner in a chokehold—six figures. The NYPD Patrol Guide prohibits chokeholds and states “excessive force will not be tolerated. [Officers] who use excessive force will be subject to Department discipline, up to and including dismissal.” Pantaleo’s employment isn’t completely surprising: In March, BuzzFeed published an investigation that showed over 300 NYPD officers who committed fireable offenses, including excessive force, were not fired.  

Mayor Bill de Blasio claims that he has been waiting for the Department of Justice (DOJ), at their request, to finish their investigation into whether the DOJ will file criminal civil rights charges against Pantaleo. Ultimately, it’s the NYPD commissioner’s decision to discipline or fire officers—and the commissioner works for the mayor. On July 16, 2018, the NYPD released a letter sent from its legal department to the DOJ, saying that the police department would proceed with disciplinary hearings if they did not hear from the government by the end of August. But in a statement sent to news outlets, the DOJ said it had given the city the green light to move forward on disciplinary charges back in the spring.

In a recent press conference with the mayor, police Commissioner James O’Neill said Lawrence Byrne, who was a deputy commissioner until the end of last month, “was not informed of that. This is something that we’ve been following very closely obviously for years. He’s had many discussions with DOJ and never at any point prior to a couple of weeks [ago] did they say it was OK to move forward.” On July 20, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city’s police oversight agency that can investigate NYPD misconduct claims, filed disciplinary charges against Pantaleo and will prosecute the case in a departmental trial.

For Eric Garner’s family, the letter (signed by Byrne) was nothing more than a political spectacle. “[The NYPD] letter and the Justice Department response shows that the excuse that de Blasio and the NYPD have been using for not holding officers accountable is just that: a political excuse,” Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, said in a statement released the next day. “In fact, DOJ’s response makes very clear that there is nothing stopping the NYPD from acting immediately to discipline officers and there’s no reason to wait until September, like NYPD’s letter laid out.” On July 25, Carr confronted de Blasio at a town hall in Staten Island and accused the de Blasio administration of blocking accountability and playing political games; she also asked him to discipline all the NYPD officers who were at the scene. Mayor de Blasio responded: “I respect the NYPD’s internal disciplinary process. There is due process; it is immediately beginning, we made that very clear.” He added that only two officers will face discipline: Pantaleo and Sgt. Kizzy Adonis.

Jennifer Laurin, a law professor at University of Texas who studies civil rights litigation, said the DOJ might have asked the  NYPD to delay the disciplinary hearings for legal reasons. Specifically, the DOJ most likely doesn’t want any previous witness statements to contradict their own (since that can result in witnesses being impeached). But Laurin noted: “The DOJ can’t compel the NYPD to not do an internal investigation,” and added that, “the time that the NYPD has now waited to conduct its own investigation obviously, itself, can complicate that investigation,” because the police may no longer be able to track down witnesses.

For police brutality activists and Eric Garner’s family members, four years is way too long for de Blasio to wait when he has the power to fire Daniel Pantaleo. And Pantaleo’s future disciplinary hearing does not absolve de Blasio of failing to hold all the officers at the scene accountable.

“Here’s the reality: in the past four years, Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD could have acted at any time to deliver real accountability for Eric Garner’s killing by firing the officers who murdered him, failed to provide aid or intervene, tried to cover it up, and engaged in related misconduct,” Loyda Colon, co-director of Justice Committee and a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, told The Appeal in an email. “But Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD have played games and used delay tactics every step of the way.” Colon called on de Blasio to stop the “blatant cover-up,” make Pantaleo and Adonis face disciplinary charges and then fire them immediately, and release the names of all the officers involved in Garner’s death.

“Mayor de Blasio has not lived up to his campaign promises of reforming the NYPD and making it more transparent and accountable to impacted communities,” Colon said. “Make no mistake: If he doesn’t make this right fast, his mayoral legacy will be tainted by his failure to hold police accountable, and the fact that a major NYPD cover-up of police misconduct in the killing of Garner happened on his watch.”

Proposed Pennsylvania Bill Would Force Patients With Chronic Pain Into A Treatment Agreement

A bill introduced in the state would require all chronic pain patients to enter into an agreement with their doctor before being prescribed opioid medication for the first time.

Women work in a recycling business operated by the American Rescue Workers in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a city that has experienced an epidemic of opioid use.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Proposed Pennsylvania Bill Would Force Patients With Chronic Pain Into A Treatment Agreement

A bill introduced in the state would require all chronic pain patients to enter into an agreement with their doctor before being prescribed opioid medication for the first time.

Proposed legislation in Pennsylvania could add more roadblocks to those seeking pain relief amid a widespread crackdowns on opioids, and even profoundly intrude into their private lives.

House Bill 2431, introduced by Representative Todd Stephens of Montgomery County, would require all chronic pain patients to enter into a treatment agreement with their doctor before being prescribed opioid medication for the first time.

Under the agreement, before opioid drugs are prescribed, patients would be required to undergo a urine screening to test for the presence of any illicit drugs. Patients would also be required to consent to regular urine screenings at their doctor’s discretion.

Stephens’s bill, which was referred to the Pennsylvania House’s Committee on Health in late May, would provide exceptions for cancer patients and for palliative care.

“Enacting public policies [like this] is necessary to address the Commonwealth’s opioid crisis and to protect the health, safety and welfare of affected citizens in Pennsylvania,” Stephens wrote in a co-sponsorship letter for his bill.

But there is little evidence that Stephens’s bill would mitigate the opioid crisis.

“This blowback is serving to deny [pain patients] the care that they need,” Terri Lewis, a professor of Rehabilitation Counseling at the National Teacher’s University of Changhua, told The Appeal.

Lewis said that the response to the opioid crisis has conflated patients who use pain medication for long-term treatment with those who have opioid use disorder.

She added that public policies that continue to impede chronic pain patients from receiving opioid medications can cut them off from treatments that “offer them a path to improved function.”

“It’s bad news all the way around,” she said.

In Oregon, meanwhile, there is a regulatory proposal that would eliminate the prescribing of all opioids to most chronic patients.

Pennsylvania already implemented prescription opioid supply-control policies, such as a drug monitoring program. The state’s former physician general, Carrie DeLone, warned that such policies would lead to an increase in overdose deaths attributed to heroin and other opiates as the supply of prescription opioids shrunk. Indeed, overdose deaths in the state nearly doubled between 2014 and 2016, according to the Pennsylvania Coroners Association.

The Stephens bill, however, targets only prescription opioids, which make up a small fraction of overdose deaths. In 2016, prescription opioids were detected in only 12 percent of fatal overdose victims in the state, according to the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association. The main drivers of overdose deaths are heroin and fentanyl, which were found in nearly half of all toxicology reports for fatal overdose victims in the state in 2016.

A recent study led by Stefan Kertesz, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Alabama,  found that reductions in prescription opioids have little impact on reducing overdose deaths.

The study’s authors called the outcomes of these supply-side policies “suboptimal,” noting “opioid prescriptions have fallen but harms to pain patients, and overdose deaths have risen.”

While evidence suggests Stephens’s bill will not reduce the number of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, it could add a major boost to the growing industry of drug testing.

A 2017 report by Kaiser Health News found that spending on urine and genetic screenings quadrupled between 2010 and 2014 and now exceeds the total budget for the Environmental Protection Agency. The study analyzed Medicare and private insurance data and an estimated $8.5 billion was spent on these tests alone in 2014.

“I don’t know who wrote this bill, but the money being spent by various facets of industry that are trying to get their product positioned into the opioid crisis for monetizing things … it’s a heavy push,” says rehabilitation expert Lewis.  “And legislators are very vulnerable because they know nothing [about the opioid crisis].”

Stephens has insisted that his bill is based on 2016 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  guidelines for opioid prescribing. But in 2017, Pain News Network conducted a survey which asked chronic pain patients how their treatment has changed since the guidelines were put in place. More than 70 percent of respondents said their opiate prescriptions had been reduced or eliminated since the guidelines were released. Respondents also said their quality of life had also diminished; more than 80 percent said their pain had worsened, while 42 percent said they had contemplated suicide because their pain was so poorly managed. And nearly a quarter said they had begun hoarding opiate pills because they were uncertain that they would be able to obtain more from their doctor.

Nearly all of the respondents said the guidelines have been harmful to pain patients—an indication that the regulations in Stephens’s bill would deepen their suffering.


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David Clarke’s chief deputy ousted in Milwaukee, two states debate marijuana, and more

David Clarke’s chief deputy ousted in Milwaukee, two states debate marijuana, and more

In This Edition of the Political Report

August 16, 2018: Initiatives to legalize marijuana scored a big victory in Oklahoma in June and face their next test in Michigan in November. Today, I’ll explore these states’ marijuana debates, and I’ll also review significant recent elections in Minnesota, Missouri, Vermont, and Wisconsin:

  • Aug. 14 primary results: David Clarke’s chief deputy ousted in Milwaukee sheriff race, Sheriff Stanek under 50 percent in Hennepin County, and more

  • Michigan: Recreational marijuana initiative headlines November ballot

  • Missouri: Cole County prosecutor known for prosecuting clergy protest loses re-election

  • Missouri: Lessons from Wesley Bell’s victory in St. Louis County

  • Oklahoma: State implements legalization of medical marijuana, but prospect of referendum on recreational marijuana unexpectedly fades

Do you want to revisit our coverage of the local politics of criminal justice reform? Check out our new locality-specific index of past “Political Report” newsletters. And keep in touch—I welcome your tips and feedback!

Aug. 14 primaries: David Clarke’s chief deputy ousted in Milwaukee sheriff race, Sheriff Stanek under 50 percent in Hennepin County, and more

There were three important elections on Aug. 14 that I profiled in past newsletters:

Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin: Earnell Lucas won the Democratic primary against the acting sheriff, Richard Schmidt. This was the first time in 20 years that Milwaukee voted for sheriff without David Clarke’s name on the ballot, but his shadow still loomed over the race. Schmidt was Clarke’s chief deputy until becoming acting sheriff in 2017 when Clarke resigned. Critics assailed Schmidt over his responsibility for the gruesome abuses perpetrated in the county jail under Clarke’s and Schmidt’s leadership. The campaign also revolved around immigration. As Raven Rakia reported in The Appeal, Schmidt’s office honors ICE detainer requests, while Lucas said the county has “more pressing needs for holding persons in our jail than individuals who simply do not have the proper documentations.” Lucas did not commit to definitively stopping this practice, however, noting that there are circumstances under which he would honor an ICE request even absent a warrant. Voces de la Frontera Action—an immigrants’ rights group that organized local opposition to Clarke, assisted Lucas’s campaign, and sent a mailer linking Schmidt to President Trump’s immigration agenda—claimed victory on Tuesday. “The results were an overwhelming affirmation that Milwaukee County voters do not want local leaders to collaborate with Trump in the separation of families,” the organization’s executive director said in a press release. A former police captain who now works at Major League Baseball, Lucas won 57 percent to 34 percent, carrying both the city of Milwaukee (by 31 percentage points) and the rest of Milwaukee County (by 10 percentage points); he faces no opponent in November.

Sheriff of Hennepin County, Minnesota: On Tuesday, voters set up a major clash over ICE in Minneapolis and its surrounding towns: Republican Sheriff Rich Stanek and Democrat David Hutchinson moved on to a November runoff. I profiled this election in July: Stanek has drawn protests for cooperating with ICE and has worked with the Trump administration on immigration detentions, while Hutchinson has committed to scaling back cooperation. “You will notice the difference between … a sheriff who stands with ICE and a sheriff who stands with immigrants,” Hutchinson said. Stanek was held under 50 percent on Tuesday; his two Democratic challengers combined for a majority of the vote. (All candidates run on one ballot and the top two qualify for the runoff.) This election is technically nonpartisan, which helped Stanek win in the past even though the county often votes strongly Democratic. But with heightened public attention to ICE, the ingredients are there for an upset that upends immigration policy in this area.

State’s Attorneys in Vermont: Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage narrowly won the Democratic primary against reform-oriented challenger Arnie Gottlieb, 51 percent to 49 percent. As I wrote last week, Marthage’s office has consistently made aggressive prosecution and incarceration choices. Gottlieb ran against her “tough-on-crime” philosophy and advocated an increased use of alternative sentencing and diversion programs, including creating a drug court, which Marthage opposed. Gottlieb will still appear on the November ballot as an independent, alongside Marthage and another independent candidate, Christina Rainville.

In Lamoille County’s Democratic primary, however, State’s Attorney Paul Finnerty lost to Todd Shove, who ran on being “a little more aggressive in prosecution.” As the publication Seven Days reported, Finnerty highlighted his support for diversion programs but Shove “suggested that Finnerty has taken it too far.” That said, Finnerty was among the Vermont incumbents who earlier this summer answered an ACLU candidate questionnaire with a collective document that generally resisted calls for significant reform.

Michigan: Recreational marijuana initiative headlines November ballot 

Michiganders will vote this fall on whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, 10 years after they overwhelmingly approved an initiative enabling its medical use. This new measure would allow people to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to 12 plants per household; it also would implement a tax on marijuana sales and distribute the revenue to education and transportation. At the same time, it would empower municipalities to regulate more harshly if not outright ban commercial marijuana businesses within their borders.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol successfully organized this petition drive in the spring, which meant that this initiative would be on the November ballot unless Michigan’s legislature immediately adopted it into law. But the GOP legislature chose not to act after weeks of uncertainty. Had legislators passed the initiative, they would have been able in subsequent years to amend and potentially weaken it with a simple majority. But if the measure passes via a popular vote in November, the legislature would need to muster a supermajority to modify its terms.

What this initiative lacks is a provision to expunge the records of people already convicted of marijuana-related offenses. “Our hope is that the legislature will address this issue shortly after passing, and we know many members of our coalition will be urging them to do just that,” a spokesperson for the coalition told the Detroit News. State Representative Sheldon Neeley, a Democrat who represents Flint, recently introduced a bill that would provide for the expungement of past convictions for acts that this initiative legalizes.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer supports expungement reform in addition to the legalization initiative. However, Republican nominee Bill Schuette opposes legalization and has sidestepped the expungement question. Back in 2008, Schuette was chairperson of a group that campaigned against the medical marijuana initiative; after it passed, he led efforts to restrict its scope and filed a complaint that led marijuana dispensaries to be shut down.

Missouri: Lessons from the upset in St. Louis County

Wesley Bell’s transformative victory over St. Louis County’s longtime prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch continues to make waves. In HuffPost, Matt Ferner reports on the sustained activism that went into organizing people around change. “We opened our field office in Ferguson, right where the uprising took place,” recounts Dominique Sanders, a field organizer for Color of Change PAC. “We’d get folks talking about the race, the important role that prosecutors play in our community and that we had the power to elect the most powerful local criminal justice position in our region.” Activist and writer Frank Leon Roberts sounds a similar note in a postmortem of his own: “Bell’s win is testimony to the power of grassroots social movements [and] of the verifiable impact of the movement for Black lives on today’s political landscape.”

Both writers detail the organizations who engaged in movement-building work, including Action St. Louis and its founder Kayla Reed, the Organization for Black Struggle, Missouri Faith Voices, Indivisible St. Louis, the Ferguson Collaborative, the St. Louis Reform Coalition, Millennial Activists United, Lost Voices, Faith in Action, and Hands Up United.

Missouri: Cole County prosecutor known for prosecuting clergy protest loses reelection

Eyes were glued on St. Louis County on Aug. 7, but another Missouri prosecutor was also ousted that same night. Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson was seeking a fourth term, but he lost in the Republican primary to Assistant State Attorney General Locke Thompson.

Cole County includes the state capital Jefferson City, so investigations pertaining to the Missouri government are often within its jurisdiction. In the waning months of Eric Greitens’s governorship in the spring, it fell on Richardson to decide whether to indict Greitens for filing a false campaign finance report. He chose not to, but Greitens resigned in the face of myriad scandals just two weeks later, a sequence of events that may have weighted down Richardson’s own re-election bid. Richardson’s attitude toward Greitens contrasts with his unusually aggressive prosecution of political protest: In 2016, he brought 23 clergy members to trial for staging a pro-Medicaid protest that interrupted legislative proceedings. Most of them were African American and were later pardoned by Governor Jay Nixon.

The defining fault line between Richardson and Thompson, however, was over how prosecutors handle drug-related offenses. “I’m vastly different to my opponent in this race because he does not believe in treatment courts or he’s very skeptical of their effectiveness,” Thompson said during the campaign. “If you just throw people in prison without treating them for drug addiction or a mental health issue, they’re three times more likely to come back out and re-engage in that activity,” he added. Thompson campaigned on using drug courts more frequently, steering cases toward rehabilitative and treatment programs, and also creating a new mental health court.

Richardson responded with “tough-on-crime” warnings. “Our courts should never be expected or forced by politicians to engage in ‘revolving-door, soft-on-crime’ measures that might threaten our right to live and prosper in a safe community just to keep our jail costs low,” he said. He applied this logic to drug cases specifically: “The addicted person became addicted through their own fault,” so “we cannot excuse the commission of crime because the person was trying to obtain property to feed their addiction.” Richardson defended his circumspection toward using treatment programs on the grounds that defendants frequently claim false addiction problems.

The News Tribune confirms that Richardson’s office aggressively prosecuted drug cases and rarely resorted to alternative programs: Nearly two-thirds of Cole County’s felony criminal cases in 2017 were drug cases, and just 15 of these 455 felony drug cases (3 percent) were processed through the Cole County Drug Court. But Richardson has been secretive about his approach to drug prosecution. A judge ruled last year that he had “knowingly and purposely” violated Missouri’s open records law by refusing to share drug case-related records requested by Aaron Malin, a researcher who has filed a series of other lawsuits against the opaqueness of Missouri agencies’ drug task forces.

Oklahoma: State implements legalization of medical marijuana, but prospect of a vote on recreational marijuana unexpectedly fades

With an Aug. 8 deadline looming, Oklahoma’s Green the Vote group looked well on its way to collecting enough signatures to place an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana on the ballot. But just days before the deadline, the group’s leaders revealed that they had deliberately—and significantly—inflated the number of signatures they had gathered in an effort to build momentum. The group submitted its signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on Aug. 8, but the prospect of a vote on recreational marijuana has dimmed.

Advocates have enjoyed a far more successful last few months when it comes to medical marijuana. In a June 26 referendum, Oklahomans approved Question 788, which legalizes the medical use of marijuana, 57 percent to 43 percent. This expansive measure enables doctors to license the use of marijuana for any medical condition, and allows people to possess and grow larger amounts of marijuana than do many other states with similar statutes.

Shortly after the June vote, the state’s health board adopted emergency regulations that restricted the measure. These regulations, which Governor Mary Fallin signed into law, banned the sale of smokable marijuana and added a requirement that dispensaries employ a licensed pharmacist. But this provoked widespread complaints that the board lacked the authority to pass regulations modifying the content of Question 788, and state officials soon changed course. In early August, the health board and Fallin rescinded their earlier rules, lifting the ban on smokable marijuana and the pharmacist requirement. Tulsa World’s Samantha Vicent recently reported on other outstanding issues that the Oklahoma legislature may have to tackle in its next session. But until then medical marijuana is ready to go: Question 788’s implementation begins later this month.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

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