The Civilian Complaint Review Board, the New York City agency that investigates cases of NYPD misconduct, has substantiated complaints of a police sergeant using a chokehold on a Black Lives Matter protester that I caught on video in August of last year.
The banned maneuver, which contributed to the death of Eric Garner, sparking Black Lives Matter demonstrations in New York City, was deployed during the arrest of two protesters at a “People’s Monday” action, a weekly demonstration that highlights cases of police brutality from around the country, and which has regularly been met with police brutality.
Both arrests can be seen in the video below.
The New York City police sergeant in the video was identified as James Slavin of the 17th Precinct. A brief search of Sergeant Slavin on PACER revealed that he has been sued for use of force at least three times prior to this incident, including for “causing the Plaintiff to choke” at least once.
Each suit was settled out of court. One for $150,000, one for $24,500, and one for an undisclosed amount. Slavin was promoted to sergeant after two of these lawsuits, including this one, which cost the city $150,000:
Adam Ciminello, co-founder of injustice.in, filed the original CCRB complaint about Slavin’s actions at People’s Monday. Ciminello did not know either arrestee at the time, but took it upon himself to file complaints.
“This was maybe my third or fourth People’s Monday,” he said in a telephone interview. “I was profoundly upset about the arrests. I had trouble sleeping. So when I woke up the next morning, I filed the complaint.”
The night of the arrests, People’s Monday had been marching through Midtown for over an hour without any police present, until it turned onto East 50th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. At that time, Slavin swiftly approached the march from behind, on foot, by himself.
In the video, Slavin can be seen pushing protester KaLisa Moore against a vehicle, then taking her to the ground before any other officers arrive. After he handcuffs Moore, Slavin begins ordering people onto the sidewalk. He then arrests protester Mike Bento, whom he can be seen placing in a chokehold at minute 1:46.
The CCRB substantiated three other complaints against Slavin for the incident: Use of Force, Restriction of Breathing, and Abuse of Authority in issuing a summons, and recommended “charges” for each finding, the most severe category of penalty that the Board recommends.
Despite the final finding, the city has yet to drop charges against Moore, who was cited with resisting arrest and two counts of disorderly conduct. Moore’s next hearing in the case is scheduled for February 3. It will be the first since the CCRB issued its findings, which can be seen at the bottom of the page.
Moore’s lawyer, Martin Stolar, believes that the CCRB’s findings definitely help with her criminal case, but many activist are still reticent to file complaints with the CCRB for several reasons.
One reason is a perception among activists that CCRB complaints rarely lead to discipline for the officers involved.
The CCRB also recently concluded its investigation into a complaint by Elsa Waithe for the incident captured in the video below, in which an NYPD officer shoved her onto the railing of a planter.
The beating her to the hospital with bruised ribs and left her unable to work for months.
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) April 15, 2015
The CCRB’s finding in this case: Unsubstantiated. They will not recommend any disciplinary action.
Even when the CCRB substantiates claims against an officer and recommends discipline, “Only the Police Commissioner has the authority to actually impose discipline,” as the CCRB notes on all of its finding.
However, the CCRB reports that in December of last year, it substantiated 30% of complaints, the highest monthly rate in the history of the Board, and their semiannual report for 2015 notes that the NYPD adopted 91% of the Board’s discipline recommendations, up from a steady average of 75% in previous years.
Still, lawyers continue to caution clients from filing CCRB complaints.
“The fewer sworn statements a client has to give, the better,” said Will Aronin, of Perry & Aronin, which represents several individuals arrested at political demonstrations. “Each statement increases the chance of perceived inconsistencies, which can damage the individual’s criminal case or suit against the City.”
“Only in a rare case would I advise an arrested client to file such a complaint,” said Martin Stolar, Moore’s lawyer. “But non-arrestees are not in the same position, so it sometimes, as in KaLissa’s case, helps.”
However, Will Aronin notes that CCRB testimony can also be used to “impeach a witness on minor issues, rather than effectuate the change a complainant was hoping for when they went to the CCRB.”
Gothamist also recently documented that some people are reticent to file CCRB complaints because they cannot do so anonymously and fear retaliatory action by the NYPD. This fear appears to be at least partially validated by the case of Ciminello filing a complaint against Slavin.
Seven days after the CCRB mailed its findings, Ciminello received a phone call from a restricted number at 11:51 p.m, according to his phone record. The caller claimed to be Lieutenant Cooper of the 17th Precinct, the same precinct as Slavin.
The caller asked for a statement, which Ciminello provided. “She then said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t think you saw it the way you think you did,’” Ciminello said. “The comment clearly seemed intended to rattle me, and suggest I hadn’t witnessed the arrest…It felt threatening.”